Simple Truths: I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye

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“This book, by women who have done their homework on grief… can hold a hand and comfort a soul through grief’s wilderness. Oustanding references of where to see other help.” —George C. Kandle, Pastoral Psychologist

Now there is a hand to hold… Each year about eight million Americans suffer the death of someone close to them. Now for thse who face the challenges of sudden death, there is a hand to hold, written by two women who have experienced sudden loss. In a book that will touch, comfort, uplift and console, authors Brook Noel and Pamela D. Blair, Ph.D. explore sudden death and offers a comforting hand to hold for those who are grieving the sudden death of a loved one. These pages have offered solace to over eighty thousand people, ranging from seniors to teenagers and from the newly bereaved to those who lost a loved one years ago. Individuals engulfed by the immediate aftermath will find a special chapter covering the first few weeks. Tapping their personal histories and drawing on numerous interviews, authors Brook Noel and Pamela D. Blair, Ph.D, explore unexpected death and its role in the cycle of life. I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye provides survivors with a rock-steady anchor from which to weather the storm of pain and begin to rebuild their lives.

“Finally, you have found a friend who can not only explain what has just occurred, but can take you by the hand and lead you to a place of healing and personal growth. Whether you are dealing with the loss of a family member, a close personal associate or a friend, this guide can help you survive and cope, but even more importantly…heal.” The Rebecca Review

“For those dealing with the loss of a loved one, or for those who want to help someone who is, this is a highly recommended read.” Midwest Book Review

and EAN

UPC

www.sourcebooks.com

Brook Noel

ISBN-13: 978-14022-1221-5 ISBN-10: 1-4022-1221-6

Self-Help $15.99 U.S./$18.99 CAN/£8.99 UK

Pamela D. Blair, PhD


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PRAISE FOR I WASN’T READY TO SAY GOODBYE “As one who deals with unexpected death, I am so pleased to find a truly valuable reference for those souls who are blindsided by such misery. I would characterize this work as thoughtful, thorough, and intensely meaningful. The personal passages, which share feelings and experiences . . . are superb. They turn a scholarly treatise into one that will touch those in suffering greatly and help them understand the wide range of emotions that they will experience. Up until now, Rabbi Kushner’s reference, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, has been my mainstay in such circumstances; I will add this book to my recommended list to loved ones and friends.” E. Charles Douville, MD, Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Providence Portland Hospital “Noel and Blair’s I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye ranks right up there with When Bad Things Happen to Good People to help people deal with the sudden loss of a loved one. Particularly helpful is the degree of permissiveness to grieve in one’s own unique way without regarding it as pathological in a supportive and nonjudgmental way. It is informative and practical, yet personal and warm. It is both practical and instructive, taking a developmental approach to grieve with the understanding that one doesn’t simply “get over it,” but deals at various stages down the road. I particularly like the sections devoted to children and to special occasions and challenges as these are frequently overlooked in these kinds of books. I highly recommend it.” Edward S. Beck, EdD, Harrisburg, PA, Mental Help.net “I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye is a book that is easily related to by anyone struggling to cope with the sudden death of a loved one. I highly recommend this book, not only to the bereaved, but to friends and counselors as well. If you want to experience


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what the pain of grief is like, to better understand what the bereaved are going through, read this book.” Helen fitzgerald, author of The Grieving Child, The Mourning Handbook, The Grieving Teen “This book does an excellent job of addressing a topic that most people choose not to address until they are directly confronted. Grief has a tendency to creep up in the odd hours of the day and the night and can be overwhelming to those experiencing loss. To have a title, a book that you can reach out and grab at any hour offers comfort. I wish this title had been available sooner as it often was a book that comforted and calmed me most during my own deep dark hours of despair. Written from knowledge and from a place of understanding and guidance is sure to make this book a winner and a timeless treasure for anyone who has known a deep loss. This book is excellent and necessary.” Bernadette Moyers, author of Angel Stacey “The authors have captured a means of discussing and exploring a very painful life passage in real life, down to earth language and experience. Many thanks to Pam and Brook for having strength to get through their sudden loss of a loved one, wisdom to understanding the Way, and the generosity in sharing their discoveries to further our healing.” Charlotte A. Tomaino, PhD, Neuropsychologist “Finally, you have found a friend who can not only explain what has just occurred, but can take you by the hand and lead you to a place of healing and personal growth. Whether you are dealing with the loss of a family member, a close personal associate or a friend, this guide can help you survive and cope, but even more importantly . . . heal.” The Rebecca Review “This book, by women who have done their homework on grief, offers a companion for others still recuperating. Further, it introduces us to so many


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others, both famous and ordinary, who can hold a hand and comfort a soul through grief ’s wilderness. Outstanding references of where to seek other help.” George C. Kandle, Pastoral Psychotherapist “A well written book about a very difficult subject. I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye will be useful for those going through these difficult times.” Bradley Evans, MD, Cardiologist, Providence Portland Hospital “As an emergency department nurse with fifteen-plus years experience in that area, I have had first hand experience with sudden death. I have always felt that not enough has been written to address the problems and difficulties that face those that have experienced sudden death/loss, and how it differs from a loss that can be anticipated. This book carefully pointed out the many ways we may grieve, but also gently addressed that point at which the grieving process was no longer healthy and that professional counseling was needed. The overall feeling from this book was of gentleness, guidance, and a sense of spirituality. The reader is given choices, resources, and suggestions to enable them to plan and implement their own grief process. I am planning an in-service education program for the emergency dept. staff (MDs and RNs) on sudden death and grief reduction and will share your book. The list of resources is very comprehensive and it is evident that much time and energy was spent to provide the reader with a very complete guide.” Kathleen Reilly; RN MS CEN “I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye is the best non-religious book I have read on grieving from an unexpected death. The authors have direct experience with the subject and share their own deep traumas . . . they also sought out stories different from their own so that you would have specific examples that come closer to your own situation. I found the book to be “right on” in describing the issues that my family and I have dealt with.” Donald Mitchell, Amazon Top 10 Reviewer


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“I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye,” by Noel & Blair is just beautiful! It is easy to read, yet covers everything a grieving person could possibly be thinking of or be going through. It is sensitive, yet realistic. (Sometimes those two don’t go together well, but in this book they do.) The book is empowering and healing, but in baby steps.” Your Life Magazine

“The death of a loved one is always an emotionally difficult experience. When it comes suddenly and unexpectedly it is even more difficult. In I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye the authors take you through the grieving process as well as learning how to deal with such a tragic loss. For those dealing with the loss of a loved one, or for those who want to help someone who is, this is a highly recommended read.” Midwest Book Review

“What really makes this book a great resource is their hands on approach to dealing with grief. They share research on why we feel the way we do after a loss, but they go on to give us specific actions to take at a time when we NEED someone to guide us to the next step. The authors write in a friendly but knowledgeable style. They don’t talk down to us, but also don’t talk over our heads with lofty theories and philosophies. I felt as if they were looking me in the eye and saying “THIS is what you can do to help yourself!” During a time of grief this is exactly what we need.” Seeds of Knowledge

“I’ve seen many books that deal with grief, but none that do it so comprehensively and accessibly! The authors write with that rare combination of personal passion and professional detachment which allows the grieving to find a pathway to health, in their own way, in their own time. I recommend this wonderful resource for those that have lost a loved one through death or divorce, and to the professionals who endeavor to help them.” Mary Kalifon, Cedars-Sinai Los Angeles, and author of My Dad Lost His Job


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“There aren’t many ‘firsts’ these days. Most books being published are like so many others. This book, I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye is a first and it is valuable beyond my ability to describe it. Suffice it to say that it is truly excellent. It understands. It supports. It comforts. It sheds light. It holds your hand. It is there for you, in a time of unbearable anguish and need, like no other book ever written on the subject.” Art Klein, author of Dad and Son Reader Reviews “After I lost my son in a tragic accident, this book reinstilled my hope and helped me cope with my heart wrenching grief over a parent’s worst nightmare—that of losing a child.” M. Pierce, GA “I bought this book three years ago when my mom died suddenly. It was such a big help to me to get through the stages of grief. It explained everything that I was feeling and going through at the time. It was a tremendous comfort to me and had a big healing effect. I have since bought it for a few of my friends who have lost their parents, and they have in turn bought it for others.” Iris C. “This book is currently helping my mom deal with her feelings after the death of my dad a few months back. She picks it up almost every morning before she starts her day. It helps her to understand her feelings and realize that she is ‘normal’ in her grief. I highly recommend it.” A. Geiger “This book provided the support and answers I needed at my time of grief. I shared this book with the rest of my family who also found it extremely helpful and easy to read. You will find that you can pick it up and read from any chapter in any order. The explanations are very helpful and the information can be comforting. I would highly recommend this book to anyone grieving the loss of a loved one.” D. Canton, MI


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“The examples and special cases of losses by others written and shared in the book help one place themselves in the midst of others’ losses and compare and differentiate the circumstances. Sometimes learning about another’s more difficult time within your own loss helps get things into perspective. I keep reading and rereading this wonderful book. Each time I review a certain area I find that something else jumps out in regards to “where I am” in my walk with grief that day.” J. Conforti I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye is such a wonderful, wonderful book! To see my thoughts, actions, and feelings of everything that comes along during the grief of a loved one, particularly one lost by a sudden death. I was even comforted by carrying it with me for over a year. Just having it near me helped so that I could read it anytime. I recently loaned it to my best friend who just lost her younger sister to suicide and I actually feel very naked without my copy! My favorite aunt was murdered by my uncle and then he committed suicide. Trying to deal with it was so hard because I felt there was no one in the world who understood my pain, my fears, my irrational thoughts, “griefbursts,” guilt, and that overwhelming feeling of being lost. This book helped me to find my way, to know that everything I was feeling and thinking was completely normal, and just to see it all in print is such a relief. This book teaches you the grief process from just about every point of view possible (parent, child, sibling, friend, etc.), gives you tips on how to cope and memorialize the ones you’ve lost, advice on where to seek professional help when needed, and the writers tell their own stories of loss and everything they experienced. I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye mentions the taboos surrounding sudden deaths such as suicide or homicide and lets you know that it’s okay to talk about it and that you need to talk about it.” Wyatt, St. Louis, MO I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye offers much practical advice for getting through the immediate days, months, and years following the sudden death of a loved one. For many who experience the unexpected death of a loved one, the shock is so great that the survivors don’t even know how to get through the time between the death and the funeral. I know that I fell into this category, and was knocking myself out to try to be “normal” when in fact nothing at all in my family was normal or


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the same. This book does a great job of explaining practical, small steps to recover from a great loss. The authors offer the premise that the grief process is a bit different for survivors of a sudden death, when compared to an “expected” death, such as a death from a lingering illness. I did feel that the authors had felt my pain of having a loved one snatched away in a matter of minutes, and talked about the added confusion and anger this sort of death gives the survivors. I found the compassionate tone of the authors and the pragmatic exercises to be extremely helpful.” L. Kelly, CO

“I purchased this book when my step father died suddenly three years ago to help me understand my loss. I now have turned to it again as I’m faced with the sudden death of my seventeen-year-old son to suicide. I highly recommend this book as a starting point for anyone that has lost a loved one or friend suddenly! Thank you Brook and Pamela for your hope.” J. Daniellson, MN “A friend gave me this book shortly after my younger brother died suddenly at the age of twenty-four. It was a lifesaver—something I could relate to and that could guide me through my grief, even down to details that authors less acquainted with the unique aspects of sudden death grief might not understand. I read it at the beginning and then reread it after several months, when I picked up more helpful advice that I hadn’t been ready to notice the first time around. I strongly recommend it to anyone who has the misfortune to find him- or herself coping with the sudden death of a loved one.” Jessica, Princeton, NJ “I had almost given up in the search for a book which even mentioned sibling grief when I noticed this book in a bookstore. The subtitle in the sibling section “overlooked in the grieving process” caught my eye and for the first time since my sister died more than a year before, I felt less alone. I also found the resource section helpful and have hooked up with a grief support group.” Kit, TX


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“I purchased this book at the recommendation of my therapist, along with the companion workbook. She told me that it was like having a “mini support group” that I could access whenever I need it. She was right. Thank you Pam and Brook for caring enough to take your own difficult tragedies and find a way to help others. I have grown so much as a result of working through this book.” Janet, O., TX “I found this book shortly after my thirty-one-year-old brother, Chad, became the victim of a homicide. What a relief to read that I was not alone in my feelings, that I wasn’t going crazy! This book helped me deal with emotions that I had never dealt with before and get through some rough times. I passed it on to my Mother and it is helping her.” Julie L., FL “This book was a gift and I almost read it from cover to cover the first reading. It covers a lot of important scenarios that I related to. It helped me understand that my bizarre behavior and thoughts were not bizarre after all. It also forewarned me about firsts and gave good suggestions on how to deal with them effectively. Overall, I recommend this book highly.” Judi H., NH “When I first came across this book, I was hurting so very badly. Mike, my very dearest friend and the man I was in love with had been killed in an accident. I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to him. I hurt so bad that I walked in a blind maze. I really didn’t want to live on. What I remember the most about this book . . . wasn’t just the story of the loss that was encountered by the authors but their wisdom in helping others see ways to go on with their lives and not be full of such engulfing sadness. I will always be grateful that this book found me and helped reach such a deeply hurting area in my life.” Natalie, AZ “The authors have done an excellent job of covering a topic that has not received the attention it deserves. As a grief counselor I frequently interact with mourners who are struggling to adjust to the sudden death of a loved one. I use this book


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in my sessions and many of my clients read it as part of their grief work. The book is written in plain language and comes across as conversational.” J.D. Ferrara, FL “My seventeen-year-old son, Roman, died in the prime of life and I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. I found the book to be more than a reference, or quick handling of the matter, I identified with similar emotions, the kick in stomach when you are already emptied of air, and the loss of “clean” closure. This book offered perspectives and “normal” responses and actions for each stage of loss. It identifies and provides descriptions for your recognition and insight. I wanted to read every word, I felt we were joined, in a lot of ways, in our losses and I wanted the insight. The book is organized for easy handling and easy reading. You benefit from the experiences of the writers as they each experienced losses in their lives, and due to their losses, I find myself more apt to believe what they are writing about. If you have experienced loss, you need a book that gives you information and is readable at the same time. This book is it.” C. Slabach, WI


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I WASN’T READY TO SAY

Goodbye


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also by Brook Noel and Pamela D. Blair, PhD You’re Not Alone: Resources and Support for Those Who Are Grieving

r Living with Grief: A Guide to the First Year of Grieving

r I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye Workbook: A Companion Workbook for Surviving, Coping, and Healing After the Sudden Loss of a Loved One

r also by Brook Noel The Change Your Life Challenge: Step-by-Step Solutions for Finding Balance, Creating Contentment, Getting Organized, and Building the Life You Want

r Grief Steps: 10 Steps to Rebuild After the Loss of a Loved One

r Grief Steps Workbook: 10 Steps to Regroup, Rebuild, and Renew after Any Life Loss

r The Single Parent Resource: An A-Z Manual for the Challenges of Single Parenting

r Surviving Holidays, Birthdays, and Special Occasions in the Grief Journey

r Understanding the Emotional and Physical Effects of Grief

r also by Pamela D. Blair, PhD The Next Fifty Years: A Guide for Women at Mid-Life and Beyond


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I WASN’T READY TO SAY

Goodbye surviving, coping, and healing after the sudden death of a loved one

UPDATED EDITION BROOK NOEL AND PAMELA D. BLAIR, PHD


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Copyright © 2000, 2008 by Brook Noel and Pamela D. Blair Cover and internal design © 2008 by Sourcebooks, Inc. Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc. This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought.—From a Declaration of Principles Jointly Adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations This book is not intended as a substitute for medical advice from a qualified physician. The intent of this book is to provide accurate general information in regard to the subject matter covered. If medical advice or other expert help is needed, the services of an appropriate medical professional should be sought. All stories are true but some names have been changed to protect privacy. Published by Sourcebooks, Inc. P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567–4410 (630) 961–3900 Fax: (630) 961–2168 www.sourcebooks.com Originally published in 2000 by Champion Press, Ltd. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Noel, Brook. I wasn't ready to say goodbye : surviving, coping, and healing after the sudden death of a loved one / Brook Noel and Pamela D. Blair.—Updated ed. p. cm. 1. Bereavement—Psychological aspects. 2. Death—Psychological aspects. I. Blair, Pamela D. II. Title. BF575.G7N653 2008 155.9'37—dc22 2007050486 Printed and bound in the United States of America. DR 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


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For George, who taught me how to let go, and for Steve who taught me how to love again. —Pamela D Blair For ‘Samson’, who taught me that friendship goes beyond human dimensions, and for Caleb who taught me that love and kinship go beyond earthly dimensions. —Brook Noel


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Acknowledgments Pamela D. Blair . . . Thanks so much to Dr. Charlotte Tomaino, Kathy Murphy, and to everyone in the TBI group. To Gary Leistico, Patricia Ellen, Alyce Branum, Carl and Wilma Machover, and Delores Paddie and Keri for their inspiration. To my children, Aimee, Ian, and Rachel, for their contributions. To my husband, Steve: with all my heart I thank you for believing in me. My sister, Marilyn Houston, for her constant support and input to this book. A great big thank you and hug to my clients who inspired me, and to all those close to me who helped me through a very trying time. Brook Noel, fellow writer and spiritual journeyer, I thank you for your vision, talent, and perseverance in seeing this work from its inception to its completion. And finally, to all those seen and unseen who have been instrumental in this book.

Brook Noel . . . The first edition of this book was a rather lonely process from concept through publication. I am grateful to have found a compassionate, caring, talented, and thoughtful team in Sourcebooks this second time around. You are all wonderful. A special thanks to Dominique, Barb, Peter, and Todd for their dedication and time to make this journey a reality. To my editor, Shana, thank you for your patience, respect, kind words, and wisdom throughout this process. You are everything I hoped an editor would be. To Sara Pattow, thank you for being an anchor in my life. As was true in 1997 and now in 2007 your friendship will always be cherished as one of my life’s richest treasures. To Mary Ann Klotz, thank you for standing by me and walking me through my darkest nights. To all of Caleb’s friends—especially Rob, Steve, and Jeremy—thank you for standing by and becoming a part of our family. To Pamela D. Blair—I feel fortunate to have found you and am thankful for your guidance, help, input, support, and partnership throughout the walk of grief and the evolutions of this book. To my family: Andy, thank you for standing by me through the good times and


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the bad and providing a steady hand when my world was crumbling. To Sammy . . . a decade ago when I worked on the first edition you were my little angel reminding me daily of life’s beauties. You have become even more of angel with the years and remain my greatest joy in life. And for my Mother, thank you for your support and love through my trials and triumphs. You are the absolute best. I love you with all my heart and soul.


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Do not stand at my grave and weep I am not there, I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glints on snow. I am the sunlight On the ripened grain. I am the gentle Autumn’s rain. When you awaken in the morning hush, I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight. I am the soft stars that shine at night. Do not stand at my grave and cry. I am not there. I did not die. —Hopi Prayer


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Contents INTRODUCTION ........................................................................XXXI

Part One: An Unfamiliar World: The Journey into Grief 3

CHAPTER ONE: THE STARTING POINT: NOTES FROM THE AUTHORS Pam’s Story..........................................................................................3 Brook’s Story .......................................................................................7 Sudden Loss Comes Again ................................................................11

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CHAPTER TWO: NOTES FOR THE FIRST FEW WEEKS Treat Yourself as if You Were in Intensive Care ..................................13 Expect to Be Distracted.....................................................................13 Have Someone Near You...................................................................13 Accept the Help of Friends ................................................................14 Caring for Your Children ..................................................................15 Someone to Take Calls and Check Email...........................................15 Seek Assistance with Final Arrangements...........................................16 Don’t Worry about Contacting People...............................................16 Let Your Body Lead You....................................................................17 Religious Traditions...........................................................................17 Wills and Arrangements ....................................................................18 Cultural Differences ..........................................................................18 Going Back to Work .........................................................................19 Grief Sessions ....................................................................................20 A Guide for Those Helping Others with Grief ..................................22

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CHAPTER THREE: UNDERSTANDING THE EMOTIONAL AND PHYSICAL EFFECTS OF GRIEF Exhaustion ........................................................................................25 Days of Distraction ...........................................................................26 Denying Our New Reality.................................................................27 Anger . . . a Normal Response ...........................................................28


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Grief Knows No Schedule .................................................................32 Physical Symptoms............................................................................32 Emotional Ambushes ........................................................................34 Grief and Dreams..............................................................................35 If You Don’t Dream...........................................................................35 If You Do Dream ..............................................................................36 Important Things to Remember on the Pathway...............................40 Feeling the Presence of the Deceased .................................................41 When You Don’t Feel the Presence of the Deceased...........................41 Communicating with Your Loved One (and If You Haven’t) .............41 The World Becomes Dreamlike.........................................................42 A Time to Withdraw .........................................................................43 Hurtful Self-talk................................................................................43 Impulsive Living................................................................................44 Instant Replays and Obsessive Thoughts ...........................................45 The “If Only” Mind Game................................................................45 Fear ...................................................................................................47

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CHAPTER FOUR: MYTHS AND MISUNDERSTANDINGS OF THE GRIEVING PROCESS Myth #1: Death is death, sudden or long-term, and we all grieve the same way............................................................................49 Myth #2: By keeping busy I can lessen or eliminate my grief. ............49 Myth #3: I must be going crazy or “losing it.” ...................................50 Myth #4: I will need to make sure I don’t grieve for too long— one year should be enough.................................................50 Myth #5: If I express my anger at God or the circumstances of the death, I am a bad person and will “pay” for it. ...................51 Myth #6: My friends tell me it is time to let go. Since others have acclimated to life again, I should too..................................51 Myth#7: I must wear black for a designated time period or I will dishonor the person who died.............................................52 Myth #8: I won’t have to grieve as much and I will feel better if I use alcohol or medication to alleviate my sadness...............52 Myth #9: If I talk about the loss of my loved one I’ll feel worse .........53


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Myth #10: Shouldn’t I be strong enough to “tough it out” by myself? ........................................................................54 Myth #11: I’ve done something wrong because some of my family and friends are turning away from me..............................55 Myth #12: I should be relieved that they didn’t suffer a long and lingering illness. ...............................................................55 Myth #13: Someday I’ll have another (spouse, child, parent, lover...) and that person will erase the pain and replace what I have lost. .......................................................................55 Myth #14: Once I am done with one stage of grief, I will simply move on to the next.....................................................................56 Myth #15: If I relive the good times, I’ll stay stuck in the pain. .........56 Myth #16: Children really don’t understand death and probably don’t need to be included in the funeral plans or memorial services.............................................................56 Myth #17: To properly honor the deceased, I must have the standard wake and burial. ................................................57 Myth #18: I am scared that if I grieve, I’ll “get over my loss.” I don’t want to forget him! ..........................................................57 Myth #19: Help, I’m stuck on instant replay. I can’t get this out of my thoughts—something is wrong with me. ...................58 Myth #20: This kind of thing doesn’t happen in my family. ..............59 Myth #21: There must be something wrong with me. I’m not crying.......59 Myth #22: I’m not grieving right—I should be doing something differently. .......................................................................60 Myth #23: I should feel guilty. ..........................................................60 Myth #24: I shouldn’t feel so angry....................................................61 Myth#25: I’ll never be happy again. ..................................................61 Myth#26: After a while I will no longer think or feel anything about the loss....................................................................61 Myth #27: In order to process my grief effectively I need to advance through the Five Stages of Grief..........................62 Myth #28: The final stage of grief requires acceptance.......................63


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Part Two: The World Is Upside Down: Collecting Our Scattered Pieces 67

CHAPTER FIVE: THE WORLD IS UPSIDE DOWN Assumptions Are Shattered................................................................68 Loss of Purpose .................................................................................69 Redefining Ourselves.........................................................................70 What Matters Now? ..........................................................................71 Finding a Beginning, Middle, and End .............................................72 Why Did This Happen? ....................................................................74 Do We Ever Get over Grief? ..............................................................75

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CHAPTER SIX: RELATING TO OTHERS Too Close to Home...........................................................................77 You Are a Different Person ................................................................78 The Ten-Day Syndrome ....................................................................80 Repeating the Story ...........................................................................81 Awkward Questions ..........................................................................82

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CHAPTER SEVEN: DIFFICULT DAYS: HOLIDAYS, ANNIVERSARIES, AND MORE Birthdays...........................................................................................85 Anniversaries .....................................................................................85 Weddings ..........................................................................................86 Holidays............................................................................................87 Happy New Year? ..............................................................................90 Next Year...........................................................................................91

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CHAPTER EIGHT: GRIEVING APART, GRIEVING TOGETHER: UNDERSTANDING HOW MEN AND WOMEN GRIEVE Problem Solving and Facing Challenges ............................................93 Processing Grief.................................................................................93 Communicating ................................................................................94 Different Losses, Different Worlds: When One Member of a Couple Experiences Tragedy ..........................................................................96


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Masculine Grief.................................................................................97 Guidelines for Grieving Couples .......................................................98

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CHAPTER NINE: HELPING CHILDREN COPE WITH GRIEF Babies (Birth to Eighteen Months) ..................................................102 Toddlers (Eighteen Months to Three Years).....................................103 Young Children...............................................................................104 Age Three to Six Years .....................................................................105 Age Six to Nine Years ......................................................................106 Age Nine and Older ........................................................................106 Adolescence.....................................................................................108 Teenagers to Young Adults...............................................................110 Does Your Child Need Professional Help? .......................................111 Grief by Proxy .................................................................................114 General Guidelines for Helping Children........................................115

Part Three: Sharing Our Stories 119

CHAPTER TEN: LOSING A FRIEND Reaching for the Phone ...................................................................120 Some Things You Can Do...............................................................125

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CHAPTER ELEVEN: LOSING A PARENT Daddy .............................................................................................128 Generation Shifts ............................................................................130 Some Things You Can Do...............................................................133

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CHAPTER TWELVE: LOSING A CHILD Extreme Emotions...........................................................................136 Losing an Adult Child.....................................................................138 Your Relationship with Your Partner ...............................................140 For Parents with Surviving Children................................................142 Some Things You Can Do after the Loss of a Child.........................143


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CHAPTER THIRTEEN: LOSING A PARTNER Loss of Identity ...............................................................................146 Circles of Friends ............................................................................147 Lingering Memories and Images......................................................148 Marilyn’s Story ................................................................................148 Joan’s Story......................................................................................152 Learning to Do Things Alone..........................................................154 Funeral Arrangements .....................................................................154 For Widows with Surviving Children at Home ...............................155 Will I Ever Love Again?...................................................................157 Seeking Purpose ..............................................................................158 Some Things You Can Do...............................................................159

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN: LOSING A SIBLING Being Overlooked in the Grieving Process.......................................161 Double the Loss ..............................................................................161 Idealizing.........................................................................................163 Guidelines for Young Siblings..........................................................164 Identity through a Sibling ...............................................................164 Birth Order .....................................................................................164 Is He Still My Older Brother?..........................................................165 The Hot and Cold Nature of Sibling Relationships .........................165 Grieving an Adult Sibling................................................................166 Terri’s Story .....................................................................................167 Some Things You Can Do...............................................................170

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN: FALLEN HEROES Limited Circles of Support ..............................................................173 Deepened Denial ............................................................................174 Political Challenges .........................................................................174 Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors........................................176 Military Losses Outside of the Public Eye........................................177 I Should Have Said .........................................................................178 Standing with Pride.........................................................................178 Some Things You Can Do...............................................................179


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CHAPTER SIXTEEN: SUICIDE Common Reactions to Suicide ........................................................184 Religion and Suicide........................................................................185 The Stigma......................................................................................185 Some Things You Can Do...............................................................188

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: ONE OF MANY: WHEN TRAGEDY CAUSES MULTIPLE DEATHS Trauma............................................................................................190 Obsessed with Revenge and Retribution..........................................191 Talking to Children.........................................................................192 Mental Health Aspects of Terrorism ................................................193 Typical Reactions ............................................................................193 Post Traumatic Stress .......................................................................194 The Path toward Healing ................................................................194

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: OTHER UNIQUE CHALLENGES The Challenge of Closure: When Our Loved One’s Body Is Not Recovered.................................................................................195 Non-Traditional Relationships ........................................................197 Grief Is Cumulative.........................................................................198 When Our Darkest Hour Becomes Front-Page News ......................199 Suggestions for Dealing with Media ................................................199

Part Four: Pathways through Grief 203

CHAPTER NINETEEN: THE ROAD AHEAD: UNDERSTANDING THE GRIEF JOURNEY Themes of Grief by Year ..................................................................204 Grief Steps.......................................................................................207 The Ten-Step Pathway.....................................................................208

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CHAPTER TWENTY: FAITH A Fork in the Road..........................................................................211 Anger at God ..................................................................................212


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Faith Communities and Grief..........................................................213 What Do I Believe? .........................................................................216 Reconnecting with God ..................................................................217 Some Things You Can Do...............................................................217

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CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: SELF-HELP AND THERAPY What are Grief Therapy and Grief Counseling?...............................220 Does Anything Good Ever Come of All This? .................................221 Maggie’s Story .................................................................................222 Is It Really Possible to Transform My Grief and Pain into Creative Energy?..............................................................................223 Journaling and Letter Writing .........................................................224 Self-Help Books ..............................................................................225 Frequently Asked Questions about Self-Help, Therapy, and Healing.....................................................................................225 So much change has happened in my life since the loss. How do I cope? ...............................................................................229

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CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: THE GRIEF RECOVERY PROCESS AND EXERCISES TO GUIDE YOU Anger Exercise.................................................................................232 Thank You Exercise .........................................................................233 Learning through Loss.....................................................................235 What My Loved One Has Left Me..................................................237 Screaming Exercise ..........................................................................238 Defining Priorities...........................................................................239 Coping with Guilt...........................................................................240 Poetry..............................................................................................241 The Gratitude Journal .....................................................................242 Calming ..........................................................................................243 Visualization ...................................................................................244 Memory Books................................................................................246 Rituals.............................................................................................248


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CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: THE JOURNEY CONTINUED . . . PARTING NOTES FROM THE AUTHORS Brook Noel . . . October 4, 1999.....................................................251 Brook Noel . . . July 29, 2007 ........................................................251 Pamela D. Blair . . . 1999 ................................................................254 Pamela D. Blair . . . July 29, 2007 ...................................................255

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APPENDIX I The Memorial Service .....................................................................260 The Eulogy .....................................................................................262 A Checklist of Calls to Make...........................................................264 Friends Support Group Invitation ...................................................265

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APPENDIX II: GRIEF RESOURCES AND SUPPORT Support for Loss of a Partner...........................................................268 Support for Grieving Children ........................................................268 Support for the Loss of a Child .......................................................270 Support for Loss through Suicide ....................................................271 Internet Support for Siblings ...........................................................272 General Bereavement Support .........................................................272 Other Recommended Books by Topic .............................................273

BIBLIOGRAPHY ............................................................................................ 277 INDEX ...........................................................................................................285 ABOUT THE AUTHORS .................................................................................291


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Introduction Each year about eight million Americans suffer the death of a close family member. The list of high-visibility terrorism, war, human suffering, and sudden loss is long and will continue to grow. The survivors of these losses include families and individuals we don’t see in the media. Mourners are suffering behind closed doors, in our neighborhoods, in our own homes, in hospital waiting rooms. They are pacing ICU hallways, watching as life support is discontinued, sitting numb in hard chairs. They are impatiently waiting in hotel rooms for a body to be found. They are torn apart by an unexpected phone call. They are grappling with a sudden death, a sudden ending, a sudden tragedy. None of them was ready to say goodbye. From our very first breath we enter and trust the cycles of life. As infants we trust our parents to tend to our needs. As children we trust the good in those around us. We are taught that if we are good to others, they will in turn be good to us. Soon we become adolescents who are taught cause and effect. We are taught that if we eat nutritionally and take care of our bodies they will serve us well for years. And we grow into adulthood, where we continue to trust these basic cycles. We trust that the sun will rise each morning and set each evening; that our children will outlive us; that there will be many days to cherish those we love. Then, in a split second, with the news of a loved one’s sudden death, the world changes forever. The orderly world of predictable cycles ends. We are thrown into an abyss with few tools at hand. No time for preparation. No time to gather what we will need for our journey. No time for unfinished business or goodbyes. Physically we may be composed of cells and genes and skin and bones, but emotionally we are composed of thoughts and feelings and memories and pieces of the people we have touched, and of those who have touched us. The death of the person we love creates a gaping wound. We have somehow changed. Our cyclical structure has been eternally disrupted and we find ourselves wandering through the broken pieces of yesterday’s foundation. Grief brings that moment when you look into the mirror and no longer recognize the eyes staring back at you. Though the sun still rises and sets as it always has, everything looks just a bit different, a bit distorted. Grief casts far-reaching shadows around us. xxxi


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When we wrote the first edition of I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye (published in 2000, Champion Press, Ltd.) the vocabulary for expressing grief was very limited. Generally society encouraged us to “move on,” “get back to normal,” or suppress our grief. A year later, the United States faced the inconceivable attack that took the lives of thousands. Political leaders addressed the nation, encouraging Americans to try and “get back to normal.” But in the wake of a sudden death, “normal” ceases to exist. Our grief needs to be expressed and our lives rebuilt. While these leaders’ words were well-intended, we were a society that for the most part did not understand sudden loss or grief. Since 2001, much has changed, yet much has stayed the same. While we are more aware and better prepared to support one another, when sudden loss knocks on our personal door or the door of someone we are close to, we realize all the guidelines and preparations in the world will never be enough. We cannot understand the true scope of grief until we walk through it. According to Kearl’s guide to the Sociology of Death: Death’s Personal Impacts, the grief associated with bereavement is one of the most profound of all human emotions—and one of the most lethal. Each year, approximately eight million Americans suffer the death of a close family member, disrupting life patterns for up to three years. According to the National Academy of Science, of the approximately 800,000 Americans widowed each year, up to 160,000 are thought to suffer pathological grief. As of July 2007, over 4,000 members of coalition forces had sacrificed their lives, bringing the reality of war and its casualties to the forefront of our daily lives. Each year suicide takes the lives of over 32,000 United States citizens, and accidents account for over 110,000 deaths. The list of how we die goes on and continues to grow. As a culture, we struggle to handle and help those around us who are grieving. No one teaches us what to do when the foundation we believe in crumbles and we are left in the midst of ruin, while society anxiously awaits our quick and tidy rebuilding and return to “normal.” Society has little time for our pain, while we can see nothing outside of it. For example, about 85 percent of wives outlive their husbands. In Time Wars, Jeremy Rifkin notes how in 1927 Emily Post reported that a widow’s formal mourning period was three years. Twenty-three years later, Rifkin found this period had declined to six months. By 1972, Amy Vanderbilt advised the bereaved to “pursue, or try to pursue, a usual social course within a week or so

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after a funeral.” We impose time limits and expectations for how long one must suffer. While over ninety-percent of American companies grant official time off for bereavement, most have established three days as the formal bereavement period for a death within your immediate family. You cannot explain the impact of tragic death to someone who has not experienced it firsthand. You cannot understand the challenges until you have faced them. You cannot explain the questioning, the disorientation, the helplessness that arises when facing the world without your loved one. Ask any survivor of sudden death if they thought they could cope with that loss of a child or spouse or sibling or friend and they will tell you, “No.” Many will say they would have gone crazy in the face of such tragedy. The majority of survivors would never expect themselves able to confront and work through the grief journey. Yet these same people are the ones who face the adversity and climb out of the abyss, who find trust again, who rebuild. This book includes our stories as well as those of mourners we have come to know over the past decade; stories of people who are rebuilding through the courage and sharing of each other’s words. It is through these stories we recognize ourselves. It is through these stories we step out of isolation and into a community where others are walking the maze of recovery with us. In this updated edition, we bring you new stories, wisdom, and information we wish we would have had access to during our journey. We bring you the work of those who have gone before you in the dark labyrinth of life’s night. We bring you the words of those who have hit walls, stumbled in the maze, skinned their knees, and risen up to emerge in a new place. For as much as this book is about death, it is also about beginning. After losing someone we love, we begin again. We learn how to take courageous baby steps, how to walk and talk, how to dream different dreams, how to trust again, and how to create life anew while honoring the past. We are forever changed. We see life differently. More than anyone else, we understand the value of each minute, we understand the importance of saying what needs to be said today, we understand what is truly important. We weren’t ready to say goodbye, and there have been thousands of others and will be thousands more who will pick up this book also unready to say goodbye. This book is meant to serve as a touchstone of sanity for navigating the unknown emotional terrain of sudden death—a terrain full of walls, shrouded in fog. We offer

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you the words of analyst and philosopher Carl Jung, who wrote, “When you are up against a wall, put down roots like a tree, until clarity comes from deeper sources to see over that wall and grow.” Brook Noel Pamela D. Blair, PhD September 11, 2007

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ab PART ONE An Unfamiliar World: The Journey into Grief When sudden loss enters our reality, we awaken in an unfamiliar world. In this first section, we explore this unwelcome place and offer ideas to help navigate through the darkness. If you have purchased or been given this book in the immediate days or weeks after the death of your loved one, please read Chapter Two: Notes for the first few weeks, as your energy allows. Come back to the rest of this book as you are ready. Chapter Three provides important insight to the emotional and physical aspects of grief. In this unfamiliar place we notice we are forgetful, distracted, and exhausted, and we wonder if we are “going crazy.� This chapter can help you understand the many ways we react to loss. In Chapter Four we explore the many myths and misunderstandings that surround the grieving process. Over the years we have received countless letters from readers who found this myth-busting section to be one that offers peace amidst chaos.

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You will also find our stories in this section. We share them with you because we believe that people who have shared sudden loss firsthand can offer a level of understanding, compassion, and hope to one another. We share our stories in hope that in your darkest hours you can read them for reassurance knowing that life does go on and that this unfamiliar world can be survived.

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Chapter One The Starting Point: Notes from the Authors “What we call the beginning is often the end. To make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” —T.S. Eliot

Pam’s Story I believe no matter how much pain we’re in, there is something inside of us stronger than the pain. That something allows survivors of the worst tragedies to want to live and tell their stories. You can see it in the eyes of someone who has managed to hang on to their dignity in the midst of adversity. It’s a kind of stubbornness. You can call it God, the soul, or the human spirit. It is found only when we have been oppressed, or broken, or abandoned, and we remain the one who holds onto what’s left. It is this inner something that has allowed me to go on in the face of tremendous loss. 3


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I remember all the vivid, surrealistic details of that morning. The smell of fresh ground coffee brewing lingered in the air as I came to consciousness. I was trying to squeeze one or two more minutes out of my warm bed and feather pillow when the phone rang. Grabbing at the intrusive noise, I put the receiver to my ear and heard nothing but the sound of someone trying to catch her breath. I thought it might be one of those weird “breather” calls until I heard LeAnne say, “Pam, George is in a coma . . . (long pause) . . . he had a hemorrhage or something.” I felt the molecules in the air begin to thicken as I tried to take a breath so I could talk to George’s younger sister. “LeAnne, where are you? What do you mean? I just saw George yesterday afternoon. He looked fine!” Crying and gasping for air, she replied in a thin voice, “You and Ian have to come here—to the hospital. I think it’s important that you bring Ian here now.” I tried to remain rational as I remembered that Ian, my twelve-year-old son with George, was getting ready to bolt down the stairs on his way to school. I still needed to pack his lunch box. I thought, Why is LeAnne bothering me with this? I’m sure it’s just nothing. After all, George is young and healthy (and handsome). Comas don’t happen to people like him. They don’t happen to people I know. “LeAnne, why don’t we wait and see. He’ll probably come to. And besides, Ian is just about to leave for school and he has a test today. Why don’t you call back in a few minutes after you have more information and I’ll bring him down to the hospital later. It’s probably not as bad as . . .” She interrupted my rambling with a bold, deliberate, almost cold intonation in her voice. “Now. You have to come now. It’s really bad. There’s a lot of blood in his brain and he probably won’t live.” Blood in his brain. I sat down hard. What was I hearing? Was I hearing that George, the man I had loved as my husband and the father of my child, and who had become a dear friend and loving co-parent after our divorce, was about to leave the earth? Come on. People exaggerate. LeAnne is exaggerating. After all, George means as much to her as he does to me, and his son Ian, and his once stepdaughter, Aimee. “Okay, LeAnne, I’ll take the day off from work and I’ll bring Ian to the hospital. Where are you?” She replied in an almost inaudible voice, “The emergency room. I’ll meet you here.”

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My limbs were numb, the blood was gone from my face and neck, and I wasn’t sure I could make my mouth work. Steve, my husband of seven years, had left for his office in the city, and I was alone. I would have to tell Ian myself. I would have to tell Ian that the dad who loved to be with him on weekends, who lived for his son’s little league games and karate matches, was probably brain dead. I would have to tell my daughter, Aimee. Part of me thought that if I could just see George and tell him loudly how much his son needed him, he wouldn’t slip away into death’s darkness. That’s it. I would scream at him and bring him back to us. Somehow I made my legs work. One numb foot in front of the other. At the bottom of the stairs I called, “Ian, meet me in my bedroom. I have something to tell you.” I kept telling myself, You will remain calm . . . think logically . . . don’t upset the boy too much, just keep calm. How do you describe this strange limbo moment where life slows down and everything around you falls away into unimportance? It felt like there was no house with its comfortable furniture around me, no more smell of coffee, no cat rubbing my legs for attention, no appointments on the calendar—all that existed for now were the two small, round, brown eyes of my little boy resting on mine. I told Ian what little I knew. There, sitting on the edge of my now neatly made bed, he melted into tears. Deep sobs and a lot of “How did this happen? What happened to him?” over and over again. His voice was cracking, rising and falling, the way twelve-year-old boy’s voices sometimes do. I comforted him. I knew that was my only role, comforter to my son with no one to comfort me. I called my daughter, Aimee, George’s stepdaughter, nine months pregnant with her first child. She agreed to join us. We made our way to the hospital, not talking. Ian looked out the car window and I could tell he wondered why everyone driving past us looked so normal, so unaffected by our plight. Didn’t they know what was going on? How could they go about their business knowing George was dying or dead? Why are they behaving as if nothing happened? I felt as if I were moving through someone else’s movie. Everything felt surreal, in slow motion. No human being is without feelings. From a baby’s first cry to a dying person’s last look at friends and family, our primary response to the world around us is colored by emotion. Whether that world seems to us friendly or frightening,

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beautiful or ugly, pleasant or disagreeable, affects the way we approach others, and indeed influences everything we do. I do not believe that such feelings arise in us solely due to environmental conditions, or to genetic factors, however important these both may be. Members of the same family, placed in the same kinds of situations, react in very different ways. Our emotions are a conscious response to our experience, but they are self-generated and reveal something important about our character. It felt like I had no emotions and no character that day. I was skin and bones and brain and blood vessels making attempts at movement. Lips in slow motion on a frozen face with unfamiliar arms and legs, a mind repeating over and over, this is crazy, this is crazy. George’s mother and sister waited with Ian, Aimee, and me in the emergency room. We all looked the same as we did last week, only now we were more robot-like, sitting and standing and walking and pacing around a room with hard plastic chairs and a TV set hanging from the ceiling. I couldn’t look at George’s mom with her soft round face and gray hair. A gentle lady of sixty-two with kind blue eyes—the same kind blue eyes that George had. If I looked at her I would have seen the pain. The pain of a woman who was told she would probably never have children and to whom George was a miracle, a gift from God—her first-born. To me, the emotions are “real” in the sense that I can perceive them objectively as a luminous atmosphere surrounding every living being. Every time we feel an emotion, there is a discharge of energy in the emotional field, whether slight or strong, and this produces a characteristic vibration and a color—the “footprint” of that particular emotion. I could “see” the emotion in the room. George was brain dead. The doctor said he had suffered a massive cerebral aneurysm. He was dead and he looked like he was sleeping—the machines kept his lungs rising and falling, his heart beating, his face a rosy healthy glow. I encouraged Ian to hold his hand, to say goodbye. He was brave. He did. He cried and said, “Goodbye, Daddy, I love you.” Aimee took her private moment with him also. George had, only the week before, stopped by to visit her in her new apartment, to place his hand on her baby-full belly, to say congratulations. George’s wife said I could have some time alone with him. Because I believe that people in comas can “hear,” I told him “thank you for our son and for the love you showed Aimee. Thank you for the time we had together.” I think he heard me, if not with his ears, with his soul. I asked him to please be an angel in our son’s

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life—to watch over him. The hospital staff began disconnecting the machines as the family encircled the hospital bed, holding hands, and praying. I tell my story because I believe in the power of story to heal. As a therapist and workshop leader, I find it rewarding to help others tell their story. The stories I hear about loss are as diverse as fingerprints—each one slightly different from the next. And yet, when we gather like we did at a recent workshop I conducted, the attendees share and the connection to each other is immediate and profound. Regardless of where we are in the process of loss, we become supportive as we relate and recognize each other’s pain. A sense of community and acceptance is vital to our spiritual and emotional healing. In her book, The Fruitful Darkness, Buddhist anthropologist and depth psychologist Joan Halifax reflects on our collective as well as personal stories when she writes, “stories are our protectors, like our immune system, defending against attacks of debilitating alienation . . . They are the connective tissue between culture and nature, self and other, life and death, that sew the worlds together, and in telling, the soul quickens and comes alive.” In his classic book, Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen writes that though our own story “can be hard to tell, full of disappointments and frustrations, deviations and stagnations . . . it is the only story we have and there will be no hope for the future when the past remains unconfessed, unreceived, and misunderstood.” Hopefully, the stories and information in this book will help you feel less alone as you struggle to find the path that will lead you across rivers of grief and through forests of sadness. We hope in some small way that we can be your support network and a touchstone for sanity during a very difficult time.

Brook’s Story It was a day in October that changed my perception of life, and my perception of death, forever. It was the day I lost my brother, who was not only a brother, but in many ways a father, a friend, and a lifeline. The day was unseasonably warm for a Wisconsin October. It was the fourth of the month and the thermometer showed a temperature near seventy degrees. With weather like that, no Wisconsinite would stay indoors. My husband, daughter, and I decided to take a trip to Manitowoc, a town about an hour north of our thenhome-base in the Milwaukee suburbs. Manitowoc housed a Maritime Museum that

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we had yet to visit. The main feature was a submarine, complete with tour. That afternoon we walked the streets, looked in the shops, took the tour, and bought our two-and-a-half-year-old daughter a blue hat, which read U.S.S. Cobia. Our daughter posed with the hat, her smile radiating happiness. We left Manitowoc around five that evening to return home. A dear friend of mine had traveled into town and we had planned to meet at six for dinner. I glanced at my watch as we continued the drive, knowing I would be a few minutes late. We had planned that she would leave a message with her restaurant choice and I would meet her. We arrived home a bit after six. My neighbors, Kevin and Mary Ann, were outside barbecuing. I stopped over briefly to say hello and let Samantha show off her new hat. I apologized for my quick departure and ducked into the house to check messages and find out where Sara had chosen for dinner. The red digital display showed four messages. I hit play. The first was from my mother. Five simple words, “Brook—call me right away.” The second was from Sara, with the name of the restaurant. The third was my mother again, this time her voice thick with a tone I couldn’t discern. “Brook you must call me right away. There has been a terrible accident.” I immediately pushed stop on the machine and dialed my mother’s number. Both my brother and mother continued to live in the town where I was raised. It’s a small resort town called Manitowish Waters, about five hours north of my then-Milwaukee home. Life is simple there. You work; you ski; you enjoy the woods, the lakes; you watch the Packers and enjoy the seasons as they unfold. Outsiders make great attempts to vacation there. Often the north woods has been dubbed “God’s Country,” and life is full and fun there. My mother answered on the first ring. I can still hear our voices to this day and picture myself standing beneath the archway of our guest bedroom. “Mom, it’s me. What’s up?” I asked inquisitively, never prepared for the two-word response that would vibrate over the phone. “Caleb’s dead.” Immediately my knees gave out and I shouted “No,” before falling to the floor, the questions, the disbelief, lingering around me. I asked how, but did not hear the reply. I crawled into the guest bed with the cordless phone pushed to my ear and curled my body into a tight ball. My daughter had walked up from behind

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and was patting me gently on the back. “It’s all right Mama,” said the innocent two-year-old voice. “It’s all right Mama.” Andy, my husband, came to take Samantha from the room and I simply mouthed the two words my mother had spoken: Caleb’s dead. Still on the line, my mother was talking and crying and I couldn’t unscramble the words. I remember only one sentence, “Brook, is Andy there? You need to hang up the phone and call me back. Have Andy call me back.” I set down the phone still writhing on the bed, wanting desperately to escape the unwelcome reality that had suddenly become claustrophobic. Rising, I walked into the living room. I looked briefly at my daughter and Andy, before running from the house. The points thereafter are somewhat vague and gathered from what I’ve been told of my response. I entered into my neighbor’s kitchen and fell into her arms as I told her the news. She quickly took me outside and huddled me close. She held me on the wooden steps as I stared at the cement and she whispered, “You are in shock. Try and breathe. Don’t talk.” I remember my hands and body trembling violently. “Look at my hands,” I whispered, “What happened to my hands?” I watched them jump from left to right, operating independently of my mind. Her words soothed me from some otherworld. “You are in shock. Try and breathe.” MaryAnn’s husband, Kevin, went to my house and took Samantha back to have dinner with their family. With Samantha out of the house, MaryAnn escorted me back home to Andy where the two of them called my mother. The details unfurled. Caleb and his faithful chocolate lab, Samson, had been duck hunting on a marsh with three friends. They had rowed a boat out about twenty minutes to the site that was thought to have the best potential. While waiting for the official opening time, Caleb was eyeing some geese flying overhead. At that moment he was stung by a yellow jacket just over his eyebrow. Within minutes, Caleb would go unconscious. His friends performed CPR as they frantically rowed back to shore. Unable to fit in the boat, his faithful dog swam across the marsh, unwilling to leave his master. His friends broke into his truck, using his cellular phone to call the paramedics. The local paramedics arrived and were then intercepted by a special team sent from the hospital twenty-five miles away. Despite the efforts of friends, paramedics, and doctors, Caleb never came to nor responded to Epinephrine or any other drug. My mother was told he had suffered a fatal, profound, anaphylactic shock reaction to the sting of a bee. Caleb

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had been stung by bees before and never had anything more than a mild reaction. We, nor he, even knew of this bee allergy. My brother was a strong and vital young man. He owned a successful printing shop, which he built from the ground up. He was a National Barefoot Water-ski Champion who was in great physical health and a prime athlete. He was about 200 pounds, and in one day, we had to come to understand that a bee, no bigger than an inch, had taken the life from this handsome twenty-seven-year-old man. It is something that I think we all are still trying to comprehend. It is something that I don’t think we ever fully will, but we each must find our own way to cope and go on successfully—that is the best tribute we can give to this great man who touched our lives. When Caleb died, I looked for someone to hold my hand and to understand what I was feeling. I wasn’t ready for a support group; all I wanted to do was to curl up in my bed, hide from the world, and have something or someone convince me it would, someday, be all right again. I scanned bookstores looking for something I could relate to but found very little coverage on sudden death. The other books didn’t understand the unique challenges of facing a death in this way. Eventually, I gave up the search for that book. As time has passed, I have learned more about what I have endured and what I have to endure to move on with my life. I have spoken with others—some in the recent aftermath of loss and some who lost someone tragically years ago—many of whom are looking for guidance similar to what I had searched for. With these people in mind, I decided to create the book I wish would have been there for me. I met my coauthor, Pam, while working on a book entitled The Single Parent Resource. There was an immediate closeness between the two of us, even though we lived two thousand miles apart. When I decided to write this book, I felt compelled to call her and see if she would consider writing the book with me. Fate must have nudged me to call, since at that point, I didn’t know she had experienced sudden loss in her life as well. We cannot offer you any quick fixes. We cannot give you a tidy outline that will divide grief recovery into a neat and precise process or stages. We cannot tell you that six months from now the world will be back in alignment. We have seen too much to offer such hollow promises. What we can promise is that in these pages we will do our best to offer you a hand to hold and words to guide you through this unfamiliar maze.

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Sudden Loss Comes Again Brook’s Story . . . February 2005 It was a Sunday morning much like any other. The Wisconsin weather was cold and brittle while I was warm and cozy in my home with my daughter and husband. The ringing of the phone interrupted our family moment. Most would say the ring sounded like it always had, but I heard it echo through the hallway— issuing a warning to the answerer. My father, age sixty-one, had entered a hospital while traveling abroad in Trinidad. In an all-too-short three-week span he was diagnosed and died from advanced colon cancer, unable to reach a condition that was stable enough for me to bring him back to the United States. Although well-versed by now in grief, the road before me was still unfamiliar. I found myself grieving not only my dad, but my brother—even harder than I had the first time. As I waded through this maze with grief both new and old, I kept a list of the lessons I learned along the way and will hold with me always. I share these with you in hopes they offer comfort in your journey. I learned that sometimes “not knowing” is the only thing to know. I learned that sometimes it’s okay to forget everything and just sleep for ten or twenty hours. I learned I have a lot more to learn about myself. I learned that the answers we often look for outside of ourselves, can only be found within. I learned that I can blame anything and everything until I run out of breath—but I become empowered when I quit asking, “why me?” and start asking, “what will I do with this?” I learned that there is nothing as precious as right now—even when “now” doesn’t seem precious. I learned that I cannot make up for today by living or working “harder” or “doing more” or “being healthier” or “spending more time” tomorrow. I learned that I can never know what the day may bring, but it is up to me at its close, to know what the day brought. I re-learned the value of a moment.

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Chapter Two Notes for the First Few Weeks “And people answered the phone for me. And people cooked for me. And people understood for me. My dearest friends cared for me when I didn’t care.” —Wendy Feiereisen

At this moment, in the direct aftermath of losing someone tragically, there is so little anyone can say. We cannot find the words to offer you peace—though we wish it were a gift we could give you. We promise you now that we will give you everything we can to help you make your way through this. We will help you wind a path through the haze, the confusion, and the pain that is gripping at your core. For the first few weeks, do not concern yourself with what you will do, where you will go, or what lies in the future. For now, we ask that you simply follow the guidelines in this chapter. There will be time to cope, to understand, to process— later. Right now, you simply need to take care of you.

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Treat Yourself as if You Were in Intensive Care You are in the process of going through one of the most traumatic experiences a person can endure. The challenges you have already faced, both physically and mentally, will leave you vulnerable, exhausted, and weak. It is imperative that you focus directly on yourself and on any dependents. Find ways to get your needs met first in these few weeks. In the first week or so you will probably feel stunned and overwhelmed. You may also feel numb or hysterical. Your emotional system shuts down, providing temporary insulation from the full impact of your loss. You will go through the motions; it will look like you’re coping well sometimes. In her book, The Worst Loss, Barbara D. Rosof writes, “In shock you may be unable to move or speak coherently; people report that they cannot think. Shock responses may also be active and intense; you may have screamed, or run from the room, or physically attacked the bringer of the news. All of these behaviors are means of shutting down, or distancing yourself from a reality that you do not yet have a way to deal with. As you look back, your behavior may seem bizarre and totally out of character for you. Remember that your entire world had been knocked out from under you. You were in free fall, and your first task was to find any way to stop the fall.” When the funeral is over and your relatives and friends have gone home, the shock begins to wear off. It is important not to make any decisions that will have a lasting impact on your life (for example, sell the house, give away the person’s belongings, etc.) while you are in shock.

Expect to Be Distracted During the first few weeks, your mind will be filled with racing thoughts and unfamiliar emotions. Many people report having difficulty with simple tasks. Losing one’s keys, forgetting where you are while driving, and sluggish reaction time are all commonly reported problems. With everything you are mentally and physically trying to process, it’s normal to be distracted. Take special caution. Try to avoid driving and other activities where these symptoms may cause injury.

Have Someone Near You If possible, choose a close friend to keep near you through the first week or two. Let this person help you make decisions, hear your fears or concerns, and be the

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shoulder for you to lean on. Give them a copy of this book. Later, as you move through the grieving process, it will be very helpful to have someone who has “been there” and understands thoroughly what you are talking about.

Accept the Help of Friends Our energy is so depleted in the first few weeks after loss, it’s hard to even ask for help. We have included a handout at the end of this chapter that can be photocopied freely and given to your inner circle of friends and relatives. You may be reluctant to do this, but please do. Even if we don’t think we need people right now, we do indeed. Brook shares her story of friendship . . . “When I lost my brother, my friend Sara was my anchor. I never asked her to come over that evening but as soon as she heard, she came (even though I told her there was nothing she could do). She simply sat next to me. Then she went upstairs and packed my bag for the upcoming week. She hugged me when I needed it and sat in the other room when I needed to be alone. To this day, her warm presence brings tears to my eyes. It was an extension of love and caring like few I have known.” If, like Brook, you are too grief-ridden to ask for help, simply show friends this book and let them read these few pages so they have an idea of what you need and how to support you. Friends want to help, but they rarely know how. The cycle of your grief will be more bearable when you hold the hand of a friend. Reach out. The following two entries summarize beautifully what those who face grief need from the people around them. “I’ll cry with you,” she whispered “until we run out of tears. Even if it’s forever. We’ll do it together.” There it was . . . a simple promise of connection. The loving alliance of grief and hope that blesses both our breaking 14


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apart and our coming together again. Molly Fumia, Safe Passage Needed: A strong, deep person wise enough to allow me to grieve in the depth of who I am, and strong enough to hear my pain without turning away. I need someone who believes that the sun will rise again, but who does not fear my darkness. Someone who can point out the rocks in my way without making me a child by carrying me. Someone who can stand in thunder and watch the lightning and believe in a rainbow. Fr. Joe Mahoney, Concerns of Police Survivors Newsletter (This is excerpted from a beautiful book on grief titled Forever Remembered: Cherished messages of hope, love and comfort from courageous people who have lost a loved one. Compendium Publishing.)

Caring for Your Children If you have small children, contact friends and relatives to help you care for them. Consider having someone stay with you for the specific task of caring for your children, since some children may be further traumatized by separation. In Chapter Nine we cover the specifics of children and grief. While it is human nature to want to help and care for others, we must understand at this trying time we will barely have enough energy to care for ourselves. Even if we want to help those around us, we won’t have the resources. It’s in our best interest to allow this time for our own grief.

Someone to Take Calls and Check Email If the person who has died is of your immediate family, you will be receiving many phone calls, visitors, and cards. Have a friend come by to take messages, check emails, answer the door, and answer the phone. Most callers do not expect to speak directly with the family but simply wish to express their condolences. Have someone keep a notepad handy to record the names and messages of callers. 15


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Be forewarned, occasionally you may receive a strange call or a strange card. Brook once took a message from a caller who offered condolences for the loss of her brother and then in a second breath requested a current picture of her daughter. Pam remembers a caller who said, “I’m sure George’s death was easier for you, because you were divorced after all.” These thoughts and comments are inappropriate and can be very hurtful, though the caller does not intend them to be. In our society, we just don’t know how to handle grief and loss. People cope with grief differently—many people don’t know how to cope at all. When you think of it, our world is geared toward gaining and acquiring; we have few lessons on how to handle loss. Occasionally people will ask a strange question or perhaps write a note in a card that seems a bit “out of place.” Realize that this is not done to hurt you; these are just people who are inept at handling loss and the thought of loss.

Seek Assistance with Final Arrangements In addition to getting help to answer the phone and email, seek out your most trusted friend to help with any final arrangements that are your responsibility. You may be the person who needs to organize the funeral service or you may have insurance agencies to contact or an estate to settle. While you can and should be involved in these areas at some level, it is important to find someone who can do most of the calling for you, make trips to the funeral home, find out information and then let you make the final choices. In the direct aftermath of loss your judgment may also be impaired, and a trusted friend can act as a guide in decision making. In the Appendix of this book, you will find some worksheets that will guide you and your support person through these processes.

Don’t Worry about Contacting People In the first few days you will make initial calls to immediate family and friends. Beyond that, try to limit the number of calls you are personally responsible for. At this time, you are unlikely to have the energy or the will to make these calls. In the Appendix we have included a worksheet that you can give to a trusted friend. This worksheet will guide them through needed calls and arrangements. Additionally, you may want to obtain the deceased’s address book and let your trusted friend make those contacts.

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Let Your Body Lead You Grief affects us all differently. Some of us may become very active and busy, while others may become lethargic or practically comatose. Let your body lead you. If you feel tired—sleep. If you feel like crying—cry. If you are hungry—eat. Don’t feel you need to act one way or another. There are no “shoulds” right now, simply follow the lead of your body. One caution: With the shock of losing someone tragically, it is not uncommon for people to turn to medication. This can be as minor as a sleep aid or as major as consuming large amounts of alcohol. Try to resist these urges. This will not make the grief easier. In some cases a doctor may choose to prescribe medication to help you cope. Be aware that medicating your grief will only postpone it. Natural alternatives are available and we have a comprehensive listing of these alternatives in at www.griefsteps.com.

Religious Traditions If you were married or your loved one adopted a religion you are unfamiliar with, you may encounter traditions that are uncomfortable for you. The religious requirements around death and burial may cause confusion and unrest in the family and among friends. For example, Marjory comes from a family where a wake lasts for days and cremation is preferred. Since Marjory was the custodial parent, she took her son to Sunday school on a regular basis. When her young son died unexpectedly, her exhusband, a religious Jew, was adamantly against the plans she was making. Religious Jews are required to bury their dead within twenty-four hours and believe that cremation is a most undignified method of disposing a body. Also, after the immediate burial, Jews “sit shiva” for seven days with the nearest of kin. It is so important at a tragic time like this to be caring and understanding of the traditions of both the deceased and the families involved. To honor the deceased, the living must find ways to compromise. In Marjory’s case, because most of her family had been uninvolved in her son’s life and her ex-husband’s family had been so close to her, she decided on burial for her son instead of cremation. Her ex-husband in turn agreed to participate in the Christian-oriented wake Marjory had planned.

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If you are unclear about what is best for you, your family, or your loved one, seek counsel with a clergyperson, family mediator, or therapist. Keep in mind that people’s needs will be different. When Brook’s brother died, she and her mother chose a small informal viewing for close friends. Many of Caleb’s friends chose not to attend. They preferred to remember Caleb as they had seen him last. Others found the viewing helpful. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, it is simply important to be open and respectful of individual needs.

Wills and Arrangements While those who die a lingering death often have wills and have told the living what they would like as far as funerals, burial, etc., one who dies a sudden death has frequently not indicated to friends and family how they would like to be treated in death. This presents an extra burden to loved ones, since they are required to go ahead with arrangements under assumptions of what their loved one may have wanted. With our emotional and physical levels depleted, these decisions become even harder. You may find it helpful to discuss your options with a group of close friends who knew the deceased. When Brook and her mother were trying to figure out what type of service to hold, they talked to each other first, and then asked Caleb’s friends for input and ideas. With the help of others, they decided a celebration in his honor would be the way he would choose to be remembered. Since the decision had been a group effort, everyone felt comfortable.

Cultural Differences There isn’t room in this book to go into the specific cultural differences in handling death and grief. All we can do here is make you aware that these differences bear consideration. The U.S. is considered the world’s melting pot, and there are many beliefs about the meaning and purpose of life and what happens after death in all corners of the world. Our specific culture informs the meaning of death for each person and also the emotional response to the death of a loved one. Some believe the pain of the loss can be eased by believing that people (or their souls) live on in a hereafter. Some have the belief that they will be born again to a better life. The spirit of a deceased loved one directly influences the living in some cultures where bereaved family members feel comforted by the knowledge their loved one is watching over them.

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Each culture has its rituals and customs that help the bereaved grieve. Rituals offer culturally supported ways to express grief and opportunities for community members to support the bereaved. Sudden death can create enormous chaos and confusion. Cultural rituals offer a sense of predictability for the bereaved and for the community. The following cultural customs and rituals should be carefully considered: • Ceremonies that should be performed at the moments before and after death • How the body is handled after death—how the body should be cleansed and dressed, who should be permitted to handle the body, and whether the body should be buried or cremated • Whether grief will be expressed quietly and privately or loudly and publicly, such as with public crying, keening, or wailing • Different grief expectations for men versus women or for children versus adults • The ceremonies and rituals that should be performed and who should participate, such as children, community members, friends, etc. • How the family is expected to grieve—what they are expected to wear and how they are expected to behave • New roles that surviving family members are expected to take on—whether a widow is expected to remarry, or the oldest son is expected to become the family leader If the expected rituals and customs aren’t carried out, this can interfere with the necessary grieving process and can lead to feelings of unresolved loss. Familiar rituals and customs offers a sense of stability and security. To find out more about the customs and mourning practice of someone from another culture, talk to someone who shares a similar cultural background, look for books at the library, or search the Internet.

Going Back to Work Depending on your circumstances and company policies, you may find that a week or two is all you can get off from work and in some cases only three days. Before

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returning, explore any other options you have. If you have savings or any other sources that can help you secure a four-to six-week break, consider using it. If that is impossible, take some time to discuss with your boss or supervisor what you are going through. We strongly suggest setting up a meeting or lunch with your employer before returning to the work environment. Ask if any part-time options or shorter days could be arranged for a few weeks. If not, ask for their support and understanding. Let your supervisor know that you are low on energy and very emotional. Ask for his or her patience and tolerance. Let him or her know you will not use grief as an excuse to avoid working, but you will need a little leeway as you figure out how to function while grieving. Many supervisors will probably be accommodating when they understand what you’re going through. Let your co-workers know that you could use some extra support as well. (You may want to use the handout we offer on page 23). Many times people are unsure if they should treat you “the same as always,” or if they should be careful about discussing certain things. Only you know how you want to be treated. Don’t keep it to yourself. If you tell others what you need at this time, many will be willing to stand by you and support you if given the chance. Some companies offer bereavement leave. Make sure to check with the Human Resources Department (if your company has one) to see what is available to you. There is also information that can be valuable to companies and employees. The AARP—Widowed Person’s Service publishes a brochure entitled, When an Employee Loses a Loved One. Bereavement Publishing provides a “Grief in the Workplace” program to help corporate America understand the needs of grieving employees. See the resource section for information and addresses.

Grief Sessions In Brook’s grief support groups, she recommends “Grief Sessions,” which are set times to honor your feelings. In our busy days, we tend to immerse ourselves in activities (sometimes mindful, sometimes mindless) so we don’t experience our grief. But we can’t get through what we do not feel. Some people find success in spending an hour taking a walk and getting in touch with their grief. Some people can sit outside with a journal and express their

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feelings. Just as our grief is unique, so will our grief sessions be. In the immediate months following our loss, this space for grieving will be extremely beneficial for processing our complex emotions.

AB These days will be long and challenging. There may seem no resolution for any of the pain that plagues you. That’s all right. It’s all right to feel hopeless, as if life has lost its focus or purpose. These are natural and normal feelings. Trust that life will go on, and that in time, you will reestablish your place within it. For now, simply take care of yourself. In a few weeks, return to this book or refer to it as needed. Trust that there will be light again and know this book will be here for you in a month or so when you’re ready to begin dealing and coping more with your journey through grief.

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A Guide for Those Helping Others with Grief (photocopy and give to close friends and loved ones) Don’t try to find the magic words or formula to eliminate the pain. Nothing can erase or minimize the painful tragedy your friend or loved one is facing. Your primary role at this time is simply to “be there.” Don’t worry about what to say or do, just be a presence that the person can lean on when needed. Don’t try to minimize or make the person feel better. When we care about someone, we hate to see them in pain. Often we’ll say things like, “I know how you feel,” or “perhaps, it was for the best,” in order to miminize their hurt. While this can work in some instances, it never works with grief. Help with responsibilities. Even though a life has stopped, life doesn’t. One of the best ways to help is to run errands, prepare food, take care of the kids, do laundry, and help with the simplest of maintenance. Don’t expect the person to reach out to you. Many people say, “call me if there is anything I can do.” At this stage, the person who is grieving will be overwhelmed at the simple thought of picking up a phone. If you are close to this person, simply stop over and begin to help. People need this but don’t think to ask. There are many people who will be with you during the good times—but few that are there in life’s darkest hour. Talk through decisions. While working through the grief process, many bereaved people report difficulty with decision making. Be a sounding board for your friend or loved one and help them think through decisions. Don’t be afraid to say the name of the deceased. Those who have lost someone usually speak of them often, and believe it or not, need to hear the deceased’s name and stories. In fact, many grievers welcome this. Excerpted from “I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: a guide for surviving, coping, and healing after the sudden death of a loved one” by Brook Noel and Pamela D. Blair, PhD (Sourcebooks, 2008)

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Remember that time does not heal all wounds. Your friend or loved one will change because of what has happened. Everyone grieves differently. Some will be “fine” and then experience their true grief a year later, others grieve immediately. There are no timetables, no rules—be patient. Remind the bereaved to take care of themselves. Eating, resting, and self-care are all difficult tasks when beseiged by the taxing emotions of grief. You can help by keeping the house stocked with healthy foods that are already prepared or easy to prepare. Help with the laundry. Take over some errands so the bereaved can rest. However, do not push the bereaved to do things they may not be ready for. Many grievers say, “I wish they would just follow my lead.” While it may be upsetting to see the bereaved withdrawing from people and activities—it is normal. They will rejoin as they are ready. Avoid judging. Don’t tell the person how to react or handle their emotions or situation. Simply let him/her know that you support their decisions and will help in any way possible. Share a Meal. Since meal times can be especially lonely, invite the bereaved over regularly to share a meal or take a meal to their home. Consider inviting the bereaved out on important dates like the one-month Anniversary of the death, the deceased’s birthday, etc. Make a list of everything that needs to be done with the bereaved. This could include everything from bill paying to plant watering. Prioritize these by importance. Help the bereaved complete as many tasks as possible. If there are many responsibilities, find one or more additional friends to support you. Make a personal commitment to help the one grieving get through this. After a death, many friendships change or disintegrate. People don’t know how to relate to the one who is grieving, or they get tired of being around someone who is sad. Vow to see your friend or loved one through this, to be their anchor in their darkest hour. Excerpted from “I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: a guide for surviving, coping, and healing after the sudden death of a loved one” by Brook Noel and Pamela D. Blair, PhD (Sourcebooks, 2008)

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Chapter Three Understanding the Emotional and Physical Effects of Grief “Shock has rearranged our insides. The disorientation comes from not yet recognizing the new arrangement. Grief is a molting where we shed the parts of us that are no longer applicable to the new parts. It isn’t a time to understand anything.” —Stephanie Ericsson, Companion Through Darkness

The unexpected loss of someone close to us can quickly turn our world into an unfamiliar place. Coping with what used to be routine becomes exhausting. The simplest task may seem daunting. Grief affects us not only emotionally, but also physically. When we can understand how grief affects us, we are better equipped to deal with its grip. While we wish we never had to learn or understand these emotions, being aware of them may offer us comfort. A common feeling of people dealing with tragic loss is the feeling of going crazy. The emotions are so strong and intense, those grieving often think they are

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the only ones to feel that way or that their feelings are wrong. In the pages to come, we have addressed many of these emotions. You’re not crazy and you’re not alone. By understanding these emotions, we take the first step toward realization and thus our first step on the pathway of healing. In her book, A Journey Through Grief: Gentle, Specific Help to Get You Through The Most Difficult Stages of Grief, Alla Reneé Bozarth, PhD, writes, “While you are grieving, your emotional life may be unpredictable and unstable. You may feel that there are gaps in your remembered experience . . . You may alternate between depression and euphoria, between wailing rage and passive resignation . . . If you’ve experienced loss and are hurting, it’s reasonable that your responses will be unreasonable.” In this chapter, we will explore many of the ways grief affects us. Some grievers report feeling many of these pains early on, while others report experiencing them later and still some report few of these experiences. Your relationship to the loved one will make your individual dance with grief different.

Exhaustion Perhaps the most commonly reported symptom of grief is utter exhaustion and confusion. In her book Surviving Grief, Dr. Catherine M. Sanders explains “we become so weak that we actually feel like we have the flu. Because of our lack of experience with energy depletion, this weakness frightens and perplexes us. Before the loss, it happened only when we were sick.” Little things we used to do without thinking, like mailing a letter, can easily become an all-day task. Getting a gallon of milk can seem monumental. The thought of getting dressed, driving a car, getting money, paying a cashier, carrying the gallon, driving home—just these thoughts alone can leave a griever hungry for sleep. Brook sought the help of a psychotherapist in working through grief. The psychotherapist had a valuable viewpoint on exhaustion. “Her first words to me were simple and powerful. ‘Brook,’ she said, ‘What has happened here has the same effect on you as if you had gone through major surgery. Consider yourself in intensive care and treat yourself as if you are in intensive care.’ Her point hit home. Although emotionally I

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had experienced a ‘triple bypass,’ I expected myself to return to jogging the day after. My body was carrying its own messages of what it needed— and that was rest and extra care.” There are many remedies for exhaustion. People may prescribe vitamin combinations, exercise, eating well, staying busy, and more. The suggestion of the psychotherapist is perhaps the most important: You are in recovery. Give yourself some time to grieve and let the emotions work through you. If you jump to stay busy now, to sidetrack part of the grieving process, it will only resurface down the road. It’s all right to be exhausted and to rest. Take time to heal. If, however, you have any suicidal thoughts, are not eating, become dehydrated, or are suffering any additional serious symptoms, seek professional help immediately. Alternative treatments for fatigue are also in our printable online resource guide at www.griefsteps.com.

Days of Distraction Most people function fairly well in their daily lives. We know how to get things done, stay organized, and accomplish what we set out to do. After experiencing a sudden death, it’s like we lose the most basic of skills. Those things that we once did with ease become difficult and challenging. Brook found distraction to be a major hurdle during her first few months of grieving. “I remember shortly after Caleb’s death, I needed to weigh two envelopes to take to the post office. I have a postage scale in my home office and I always use that to avoid holding up the line at our one-clerk, small-town post office. Well, that day I could not find the scale. I walked through my office, through my living room. I even checked the kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom. Nothing. Off and on throughout the day, I would repeat my search. For three hours, I scanned the house for that scale. Finally, in frustration, I threw my hands up and decided just to have the items weighed at the post office. When I returned, I walked into my office and there on my desk was the scale. It had been sitting there the entire time, covered by nothing. It was in an area I had stared directly at for hours, yet I had not seen it. This is the type of distraction that often accompanies grief.

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I noticed on these days I didn’t always feel down or sad, but when I was trying to cope with grief and didn’t have an outlet, situations like this would occur. Many of these “days of distraction” happened a couple of months after Caleb’s death. They became an alarm for me. During these days, I would quit trying to do so much and instead relax and work through my grief. I had a similar challenge one day while trying to pay a bill. For an hour I couldn’t find my checkbook. When I finally found my checkbook, I had lost the bill that I wanted to pay. The cat-and-mouse search continued a few more times and before I knew it, an entire day had passed while simply attempting to mail out a single payment. When this first happened, I would push myself and try to keep going. By the end of the day I was often near tears from frustration.” These moments of distraction are signals from your body that you must slow down. No matter how small the task, it is too much for you right now. Be careful not to overburden yourself. Lower your expectations. Know that your ability to function will return—it takes time—it takes recovery.

Denying Our New Reality We are not usually conscious of our denial; it happens below the level of our awareness. Denial is sometimes characterized by immersing one’s self in fantasies such as, “He’s just away on a trip,” or “She’ll be walking in the door any minute,” or “He can’t be dead, we have plans to go away this summer and he wouldn’t let me down that way.” Denial is a natural, instinctive, protective response that actually gives us time to grasp reality. Barbara D. Rosof tells us that “as shock fades, and your mind and body reclaim their control, you start to take in the news. But it still may be too much; you may move in and out of denial. Lasting for hours or sometimes days, denial is another way of retreating from a reality too painful to bear . . . As irrational as it may seem to others, denial serves a necessary purpose. It is a psychological emergency measure, a temporary forestalling. You are not yet ready to confront your loss head-on.”

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For some, the passage through the denial phase will be accelerated by reading the obituary, seeing pictures in the newspaper, reading the death certificate, or viewing the headstone. Caregivers should not prevent their loved ones from seeing these things. Denial can be helpful for short periods of relief; however, you must move through it into the painful reality of the loss and begin to feel the feelings. If you find yourself stuck in the denial stage, you may need professional help to move on. How Does Grief Differ from Depression? Depression is more than a feeling of grief after losing someone or something you love. Clinical depression is a whole-body disorder. It can take over the way you think and feel. Symptoms of depression include: • • • • • • • • • •

A sad, anxious, or “empty” mood that won’t go away; Loss of interest in what you used to enjoy; Low energy, fatigue, feeling “slowed down;” Changes in sleep patterns; Loss of appetite, weight loss, or weight gain; Trouble concentrating, remembering, or making decisions; Feeling hopeless or gloomy; Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless; Thoughts of death or suicide or a suicide attempt; and Recurring aches and pains that don’t respond to treatment.

If you recently experienced a death or other loss, these feelings may be part of a normal grief reaction. But if these feelings persist with no lifting mood, ask for help. Source: National Institutes of Health: National Mental Health Information Center

Anger . . . a Normal Response Who wouldn’t be angry when someone they loved so dearly is suddenly taken from them? Anger is natural in this situation and it is actually a healthy part of the grieving process. Yet anger takes different forms, some of them healthy and some of them unhealthy.

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Let’s examine the types of anger that are natural, though unhealthy. Some of us will express anger when we are not getting the support we need from friends, family, or work. While intensely wrapped in our grief, we usually don’t think to ask for support. Instead we lash out at those close to us with hostility, irritability, and anger. If we can recognize this anger for what it is, we can use it in a healthy way. This is a clue that we are not receiving the support we need. We need to ask for more or seek out other support networks. Displaced anger is simply misdirected anger. We want someone to take responsibility for what has happened. We need someone to blame and to be held accountable. We may scream or yell at those who cared for the person at the hospital. We may become angry with those who were with the person when he died. Displaced anger is completely natural and will lessen as you learn to accept what has happened. Anger can also surface when we recall past moments or turmoil, pain, or unresolved anger within our relationship with the person we have lost. Suddenly we are forced to realize we will never share another physical interaction with this person. When that happens, memories flood through. Within these memories there are bound to be recollections of feisty exchanges, arguments, and past hurts. Wishing we had more time with the loved one, we may overcriticize ourselves for any time there was conflict in the past. It is unrealistic, however, to expect perfection in any relationship. Immersing ourselves in the “should haves” and “could haves” of the past will only prevent us from dealing effectively with anger in the present. Anger also occurs when we suppress our feelings. Anger is not the most accepted emotion in today’s culture. In fact, many people don’t even recognize anger as part of the grieving process. Depending on our support network and situation, we may be encouraged not to show our anger. When this happens, the anger still exists and needs to be released, so it is released inward. This can cause a variety of problems. We may become sick, depressed, have chronic pain, or begin having nightmares. Begin to look at healthy alternatives for releasing this anger. Anger is especially common with tragic deaths. Since we could do nothing to stop or prevent the loss and are left only to interpret it, we may become frustrated and develop feelings of helplessness. Bouts of crying are the most common release for this anger. It’s easy to not release this anger and to turn it inward. If you suspect you may be doing so, talk to a friend or counselor to help release these feelings.

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Appropriate anger is the point that we all hope to get to eventually. In this phase we can take our anger, in whatever form, and vent it. There are many ways to release anger appropriately. Here are a few . . . • beat a pillow • create a sacred space where you can go and not be heard or seen to let the anger out of your system • use journaling to record and release your angry feelings • take a walk out into an unpopulated area and scream until you are exhausted • rant with a friend, therapist, or counselor • see the Appendix for other ideas Sarah, a young client of Pam’s, once said, “I am very angry at my fiancé. It feels like I’m angry all the time. I mean, he was killed one month before we were to get married and it wasn’t his fault. So, why am I angry at him?” The death of someone we care about and who made promises to be there and love us forever, turns us upside down and inside out. It affects our equilibrium. We think and feel things we never imagined we were capable of. In addition, women are especially uncomfortable with anger because we have been acculturated to be “nice” and to seek solutions other than confrontation. In her book, The Dance of Anger, Harriet Lerner, PhD writes, “Women, however, have long been discouraged from the awareness and forthright expression of anger. Sugar and spice are the ingredients from which we are made. We are the nurturers, the soothers, the peacemakers and the steadiers of rocked boats.” Men, on the other hand, are generally quicker to experience anger but have a harder time with sadness. Feel your anger, acknowledge it, and know that it is a normal part of the grieving process. If you don’t express your anger, holding it in will cause you to become depressed. Anger turned inside out is depression. You might also seek a trained professional who will help you diffuse your anger by encouraging you to express it safely. Find a safe way to express this normal emotion and you will begin to feel less “crazy” and more at peace.

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Warning Signs As you work through your grief, it’s important to monitor yourself and your stages. The following list can help you discern healthy grief from distorted grief. If you feel you may be suffering unhealthy grief, seek the help of a support group, clergyperson, or therapist. ■

Extreme Avoidant Behavior—If you are avoiding friends and family for a prolonged period of time (over three weeks), you will want to talk to a professional. People need other people to work through grief. Lack of Self-Care—In order to have the energy and emotional capacity to work through grief, one must first take care of his or her basic needs. If you are having problems meeting basic needs, this is a warning sign to seek help. Prolonged Denial—If months have passed and you are still in denial, you will most likely need a support group to help you move through this stage. Self-Destructive Thoughts—These thoughts are not unusual during grief, but we can expect them to pass quickly. If they are persistent or obsessive, it is best to consult a professional for guidance in working through them. Displaced Anger—With few emotional outlets available to us, it is common for anger to be displaced. However, this can become problematic if your anger is hurting you in personal or professional areas, or hurting others— seek help immediately. Prolonged Depression or Anxiety—Like denial, prolonged and immobilizing depression or anxiety are signs to seek help. Self-Medication—If you are using substances in excess to self-medicate your pain (i.e., food, alcohol or drugs), seek the help of an organization that specializes in such disorders or the help of a professional.

The stages and procedures we have outlined in this chapter serve only as guidelines. We will each experience and manage grief differently. Take that which is useful to you and let the rest go. Perhaps most importantly,

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know that with time and some conscious effort on your part, life will get easier and more manageable.

Grief Knows No Schedule In today’s world we have grown accustomed to scheduling so much of life. Most of us own at least one organizer or appointment book. Yet grief is one thing that will never fit in an appointment-square. You may find there are times when you are in the midst of a normal, pleasant activity and suddenly a wash of grief comes over you. Know that this is common and that grief can surface at any time, without notice. Both of us experienced the common “ambush” of grief. “I remember watching a television comedy with my husband. I had been laughing throughout the show and it had been a while since I shed tears over Caleb’s death. Then there was an ad to solicit funds for needy children—the theme song was Amazing Grace. The day before we cremated Caleb, we held a small viewing for his closest friends and family. We had given the pastor no instruction and the pastor sang that song. I had been driven to tears then, and I was driven to tears again as I watched the ad on television. A year and a half later, I was walking on Bourbon Street in New Orleans when I heard a street performer singing Amazing Grace. I had tears in my eyes then as well.” Pam had a similar experience . . . “George was a Beatles fan. Many months after he died, while in a fast food restaurant and mid-bite of my hamburger, the piped-in music started with John Lennon’s Imagine and a nail went into my heart.” There is so little of life we control. Grief ’s timing is among the uncontrollable. Expect experiences similar to these frequently over the first three to six months. The frequency is often based on how close you were to the deceased. Over the course of a year, they will lessen, but they may still happen from time to time.

Physical Symptoms When grief covers us with its dark wings, it often resembles serious illness. We are emotionally and physically depleted and susceptible to a variety of symptoms. While these symptoms are often part of the grieving process, they may also

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indicate a more serious condition. It is advisable to consult a medical professional to have symptoms evaluated. While it is important to be aware of these symptoms, they are not a sign of going crazy. If the symptoms are grief induced, they should pass or lessen by working through our grief. If you find any symptom to be overwhelming or unbearable, contact a medical professional. Commonly reported symptoms include: chest discomfort sleep difficulties poor appetite or overeating shakiness or trembling numbness disorientation migraines or headache

dizziness dry mouth crying exhaustion or weakness shortness of breath listlessness heart palpitations

I feel like I’m falling apart, not just emotionally, but physically. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to die next. What’s going on? What can I do? There are many dimensions of the physical and emotional self to consider as you wind through the pathway of grief. Psychological, spiritual, nutritional, and social dimensions all play an important role as you struggle to find balance. A loved one has died, suddenly, and it is a shock to the entire system because your thoughts and perceptions affect every cell and hormone in your body. One of the most neglected areas of health is the emotional component and its effect on physical well-being. If you are unaware of the toll this shock can have on your body, you are not likely to take care of yourself when you need to most. Some people overindulge with nicotine, drugs, alcohol, sleep, or food. If you are to prevent the ill effects of the loss from harming your physical body, you must pay close attention to the messages you are giving yourself. Are you giving yourself “die” messages because you wish it had been you who died instead of your loved one? Are you giving yourself “I don’t deserve to live” messages because you believe there was something more you could have done to save them?

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Your emotions are powerful. In her newsletter, Health Wisdom for Women, Dr. Christiane Northrup writes, “The brain and immune system communicate in two ways: By means of hormones that the brain regulates; and through protein molecules, called neuropeptides (or neurotransmitters) and receptors, which send messages back and forth. These same molecules are not only in your brain, but also in your stomach, your muscles, your glands, your bone marrow, your skin and all of your other organs and tissues. Since the network expands to every organ in the body, it means that every thought you think and emotion you feel is communicated to every cell in your body.” Willpower alone may not be enough to prevent self-destructive behavior. Many times we need a support group or therapist to assist in the process. Before going “over the edge,” seek help. The resources chapter of this book contains many ideas that can assist you in finding a professional group or organization to act as a support network.

Emotional Ambushes Deep pain and sadness, as if the death had just occurred, can surface at odd moments. Just when you think you’re coping fine, along comes the dreaded ambush! Up from “nowhere” the rage resurfaces, the disbelief, the flashback, the horror, the insane feeling, the whatever. Just when you told yourself and your friends, “I’m finally beginning to feel better.” Emotional ambushes are particularly evident around special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays, or any time you are expected to participate in a celebration of some kind. You may know exactly what kind of place or event triggers you (i.e. a particular store in the mall, the sound of children playing, the smell of pizza, a song, a football game), and you can chose to avoid those situations. However, sometimes the unexpected occurs—the tears begin to flow and the outrage returns. Pam had this type of experience. “I remember going to the supermarket and seeing my loved one’s favorite Campbells soup on the shelf. I dissolved into tears and the mascara ran in streams onto to my white blouse. You might try wearing sunglasses in

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public. I did and it helped disguise the red, puffy eyes and the raccoon look. I also carried tissues and told strangers that I was dealing with a lousy allergy attack. And sometimes I told the truth.” If practical, stop what you’re doing and honor it. Have the feeling, weep the tears, beat the pillows; phone someone or everyone in your support group. Allow the full force of the pain to wash through you—it will pass. A word of caution—if the “ambush” occurs while you are driving a car or other vehicle, pull over where it is safe. Driving with tears in your eyes and rage in your heart can be hazardous.

Grief and Dreams Some people have dreams of the deceased and others do not. Each of us has a unique subconscious mind that copes with life and trauma differently. You probably know people who remember their dreams and others who rarely remember a thing. Similarly, how grief affects us in our dream world varies. If you don’t have dreams of the deceased, don’t worry.

If You Don’t Dream In Intuition magazine, Marlene King wrote an article entitled, “The Surrogate Dreamers: One couple’s gift to a grieving friend.” Marlene invited over a couple she knew for a causal Saturday night barbecue. The next night, Stephen, the forty-four-year-old husband in the couple, died of heart failure while dancing with his wife. Over the next week, Marlene helped her friend with details surrounding the tragic death. Marlene writes, “It was during this period that Janice told me she hoped to connect with Stephen through her dreams, but no dreams had come. Knowing that emotions often block us physically, I reassured her that her dreams would return, when she was less emotionally fragile.” A few days after this conversation, Marlene dreamt of Stephen. She saw him dressed in a tuxedo. She felt this odd, since Stephen usually dressed casually. She goes on to say, “I reported the dream to Janice . . . the absolute silence and lack of response on the other end of the phone made me question whether I was right to tell her about the dream. Unknown to me, she had elected to have Stephen

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cremated the day before, and had chosen to dress him in the same clothing he wore in my dream. For a while after that, it was as though my husband and I became Janice’s ‘surrogate dreamers.’ Our love for her seemed to open us up to the dream communication that was temporarily unavailable to Janice due to her shattered emotional state.” If you find that you are not having dreams, know that this is normal. Our emotions can be so turbulent during these times that we are cut off from our dream source. Listen to others close to you. Listen to family and friends. What dreams are they having? If they don’t bring it up, ask if you like. These dreams can carry messages for you as well.

If You Do Dream A Dream Journal Consider keeping a dream journal. Many people believe that dreams following closely after death are the deceased making contact. These dreams may be ones that you want to cherish and hold. If you remember your dreams, spend ten minutes each morning jotting down thoughts and impressions in your dream journal. If you only remember pieces of your dream, jot those down. Often just a few notes will spur other recollections. Dreams of your deceased loved one can open up new avenues to healing, but you may not be aware you are having dreams or they may be hard to remember. One way to keep the dream upon waking is to keep still—don’t move a muscle— don’t get up to go to the bathroom or turn on the light. Start with any dream fragment that comes to your conscious mind and try to piece the entire dream back together. Or simply write down the dream fragment and the rest may come back later in the day. In her book, Nature’s Prozac, Judith Sachs offers the following thoughts on remembering dreams, “Before you go to sleep at night, put a pad and pen on your bedside table. Tell yourself you are going to remember your dreams (this suggestion may take a few nights to penetrate.) As you relax in bed, give yourself permission to explore all the areas of your mind that you don’t pay enough attention to during the day. We tend to be in REM sleep just before waking, so it’s best to set your radio alarm to a soft music station rather than to the news or hard rock. This way you can wake slowly and take stock of what’s going on in your mind.”

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Troublesome Dreams Some grievers report nightmares or troublesome dreams. These dreams may involve a direct conflict between the dreamer and the deceased. Other times the dreamer may envision the deceased dying or in pain. With sudden death we often have very little information. Dreams are where our subconscious mind works things through. If you awake from an unpleasant dream, realize it is your subconscious mind prompting you. Recall as much as you can. Try to fill in the blanks. Examine the dream the best you can. If you find it hard to face these dreams or have problems being objective, ask a trusted friend or psychotherapist to review them with you. Keeping a dream journal can also help you make sense of troublesome dreams. Another way to handle disturbing dreams is to try to “reprogram” them. Think through your upsetting dream. Try to find the point within the dream where things become upsetting. Choose a different ending that would make you more comfortable. Visualize the dream playing out this way in your mind several times, especially before going to sleep. This can help change or diminish the dream’s impact. If nightmares are a problem, over-the-counter or prescription medications could be the cause. According to medical researcher Judith Sachs, if you are taking sleeping medications such as barbiturates or benzodiazepines (for anti-anxiety), these medications can give you nightmares. Additionally, some people have reported antidepressants as causing vivid and shocking dreams. Also, getting off drugs can give you nightmares. So make sure you withdraw under a doctor’s supervision and mention any side effects. Communication Dreams If you are a person who does dream, keep in mind that these dreams can be quite varied. Some may be peaceful and others may be disturbing. As you move through the process of grief, your subconscious mind will respond in varied and surprising ways. Brook had an intriguing dream shortly after her brother’s death . . . “I had my first dream three weeks after Caleb’s death, which I was told was surprisingly soon, and I have had many since. I think that since I try so hard to be the foundation for others, I work through a lot of my grief and feelings in my sleep.

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Three weeks after Caleb’s death, my book on single parenting was due. In an attempt to meet the deadline I took three days to curl up in a hotel and get some solid writing done. I usually stay up until one or two when I’m on my writing escapades. Yet on this night, I had an overwhelming feeling to lie down and read some of my notes. I plopped onto the bed, my feet propped up on the pillows and my head near the bottom. I still had my contact lenses in, and being only 9 p.m. I knew I’d get at least five more hours of work in before calling it a night. The next thing I knew it was 6:45 a.m. I was in the exact same place on the bed and I had dreamt of my brother. We were in our childhood home in northern Wisconsin. Our rooms, as in reality when we were kids, were directly across from one another. I was in my room, as I had been during the week I had stayed up north after Caleb’s death. In the dream I was fully aware that my brother was dead, and I was grieving it with my entire soul. Suddenly there was the familiar thud of footsteps down the hallway. Caleb’s, no doubt. At first, I peered out my door a bit nervously. I could see Caleb standing in his room. Every detail of his face, body, and clothing were clear to me. Caleb was wearing the clothes he had been cremated in. He was rustling through his room’s contents with a frustrated expression. Then he saw me. ‘Brook, where are all my clothes?’ he asked, peering into his duffel bag. I stood rigid. I knew he was dead, yet I knew he was there. ‘Caleb, you’re dead.’ I said simply. He looked up and said he knew that, but that he had to take care of a few things. First, however, he wanted to change his clothes. ‘Where are you going?’ I asked. ‘I’m just going to see a few people,’ he said grabbing something off his desk, though I couldn’t tell what it was. ‘Caleb,’ I said gently, ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea. Everyone thinks you’re dead. And, well, you might scare some people.’

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‘Really?’ He asked, with his head titled in an inquisitive look. ‘Caleb, don’t leave without hugging me,’ I said, tears filling my eyes. My brother took me in his strong arms. ‘You cannot go,’ I repeated; ‘Everyone thinks that you are dead. Please don’t go—I’ll never see you again.’ He tilted my head up toward his and wiped a wisp of hair away from my face. Staring straight into my eyes with his little smirk he said, ‘You poor little children.’ In that moment I knew he was saying he lived on, though I never understood in what way. Feeling somewhat foggy, I got up and slowly moved around the room. I had this feeling of incredible closeness with Caleb—so close I was tingling. Over the course of my writing weekend I had brought one large box that I wanted to go through during my breaks. Inside were photos, papers, and other miscellaneous things from Caleb’s desk drawers. I wanted to sort through and divide up the photos for his friends and find any estate paperwork. At that point, I had yet to open the container. I walked over and opened the box. I reached in and pulled out a picture of Caleb. I reached in again and pulled out a card. On the inside of the card was a quote in Caleb’s handwriting. The quote was taken from Jonathan Livingston Seagull: ‘If our friendship depends on things like space and time, then we have already destroyed our brotherhood. But overcome space and all you have is here; Overcome time and all you have is now. And in the middle of here and now Don’t you think we might see each other once or twice . . .’ To this day, when I recount this dream, people ask me what I think it meant. Many want to know if I feel I had actual contact with my brother or if that was Caleb trying to speak to me. All I can say is that for a night when we should have been the furthest apart— separated by death and the unknown—I had never felt closer to him.”

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Important Things to Remember on the Pathway • Remember, if someone says something like, “It’s time now to get on with your life,” you have the right to say, “In my time and God’s time, not in your time.” • If you want to wear black you can. You can also wear any other color you want during the time you are grieving. • If you need isolation for a while that is okay. You will be with people when you are ready. • Find a safe time and place to “go crazy” if you want to. Go yell in the woods, throw rocks at trees, swear at the TV or wear the deceased’s clothes to bed. • Be kind to yourself. Perfection is not necessary; there is no arriving, only going. There is no need to judge where you are in your journey. It is enough that you are traveling. • Make a commitment to your future. Commitment enables you to bypass all your fears, mental escapes and justifications, so that you can face whatever you are experiencing in the moment. • Get out of your own way. The main block to healing from loss is the thought that we shouldn’t be where we are, that we should already be further along in our growth than we perceive ourselves to be. Let these expectations go. • Affirm yourself. Who you were and who you will be are insignificant compared to who you are. • Fear is not always a bad thing. If you allow yourself to experience fear fully, without trying to push it away, an inner shift takes place that initiates transformation. There is no experience that exists in this life that does not have the power to lead you to greater knowledge and growth. Major loss can only become a vehicle for creating a renewed life when we stop thinking of it as punishment and start to see it as process. This process begins with the death of a relationship and proceeds through a period of grief and mourning, in which the death is recognized and accepted, and ends with a rebirth.

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Feeling the Presence of the Deceased Feeling the presence of the deceased is similar to the “phantom limb” syndrome some report after losing a limb. Many grievers feel like they have lost a part of themselves. Some spouses feel the deceased’s presence in bed. Hearing footsteps, smelling that person’s scent, hearing a voice or seeing a fleeting image of the deceased is common during the grief process. Often this occurs as we try to rationalize and understand what is happening. Is someone sending us a message? Are we being told something? Are we “losing” it? In her book, Surviving Grief, Dr. Catherine M. Sanders writes about the flicker phenomenon, “a perception seen at the outside edges of our visual field as a flickering shadow. Immediately, thoughts of the deceased come to mind, but when we look directly at that area, nothing is there.” These sightings or feelings may well be the deceased trying to comfort us, trying to get through somehow. When we try to rationalize and make sense of these experiences, we rob them of their magic. Just as we don’t understand why these unexpected deaths occur, we must try not to overanalyze these moments—simply let them offer comfort.

When You Don’t Feel the Presence of the Deceased Some survivors become distressed because they don’t feel the presence of the deceased the way someone else does. Try not to judge yourself as unloved or unimportant to your loved one because you do not feel them “communicating” with you. Try not to be hard on yourself because you can’t “tune in.” Some people may have a hard time believing that feeling the presence of the deceased is possible. If this is the case, look for simple signs that may indicate your loved one’s presence. For instance, after George died, Pam heard his favorite song in an elevator and felt he was there with her. When her dad died, she saw a falcon (he used to train them) circling above her on a nature walk and instantly felt connected with him.

Communicating with Your Loved One (and If You Haven’t) It can give some grievers an extraordinary amount of comfort to “communicate” with their loved one in some way. In Pam’s practice she encourages clients to say what was unsaid before their loved one died so unexpectedly. For instance, one

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widow from the 9/11 attacks who was asleep when her husband left for work and didn’t kiss him goodbye that day wrote her husband a love letter and kissed her signature at the bottom. She then read the letter aloud, first in Pam’s office, then to her grief group, and then she put the letter in the ground next to his headstone. At one of her sessions she told me, “There are some days when I talk to him as I’m driving to work. I ask him to watch over the children and to be there for me when it’s my time. Sometimes I think I hear him responding, other times it feels like I’m not making any connection. But it helps me to talk to him and I don’t care if people think I’m crazy.” One of Brook’s clients Beth felt different from other mourners because she did not talk to her mother who had died suddenly. All of her sisters reported regularly communicating with or talking to their mother. As Beth explored her emotions, she discovered she was nervous about reaching out to her mother. What if she doesn’t approve of the choices I have made? What if she can see my whole life now, and doesn’t like some of the things I have done? Brook encouraged Beth to open up little by little. Our own self-doubt can hamper our ability to communicate with our loved one. True love between people is unconditional, loving our strengths and weaknesses, even when they do not understand or agree with them.

The World Becomes Dreamlike Many people who have lost someone suddenly find the world becomes a surreal place. It’s almost as if we are floating without seeing or comprehending. Everything becomes a blur as the concept of time disappears. Days are measured by: one day after he died, two days after he died...all standard concepts fade away. Some have described it as slogging through molasses, a slow-motion movie, a feeling like they are not in their body. Perhaps this is nature’s way of slowing us down to heal. Helen Fitzgerald, author of The Mourning Handbook, writes, “During this initial period of grief you will feel a numbness and a disassociation with the world around you. People who are going through this often tell me that they feel as if they are watching a play in which they are but spectators. Others feel that what has happened is only a bad dream from which they will wake up to find everything back to normal.” Know that this is part of the body coping with tragic loss. Our

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bodies and minds know better than to dump us back into reality after such an intense blow. Therefore we are nudged slowly, step-by-step, back into day-to-day life. Much of the world will remain out of focus, allowing us to gather our bearings one step at a time.

A Time to Withdraw Many people will experience a state of numbness while moving through grief. The world may take on a dreamlike quality or seem to go on separate from them. Often experiences or people that once evoked joy and happiness evoke nothing at all. Activities once enjoyed seem foreign. Some people spend a relatively short time in this numb state, as short as a few days, while others find it lingers. This is part of how our bodies help to protect us from the overwhelming emotions caused by our loved one’s death. We become numb and filter through information as we are able, instead of all at once. The feelings will come back, but it will take time. Hand-in-hand with exhaustion, performing our day-to-day activities, even if they are ones we used to enjoy, may seem overwhelming. Most people are unable to maintain a variety of activities immediately after this shock. Minimize the expectations on yourself to avoid adding to your stress. Contact event or group coordinators to let them know that you will be taking some time off, indefinitely. For example, if you are part of your child’s home and school program, a softball coach, or part of a regular bowling league—take a break. At this point you need only focus on working through these hard times. This advice runs contrary to what many will say. Many people will urge you to “stay involved,” “take on more,” “try something new,” or “get back in the swing of things.” Yet this advice doesn’t make sense. If you don’t have the energy or focus to take care of yourself, why should you be taking on additional responsibilities? Sure, they may take your mind off of your grief for a short period—but you still have to do your grieving. There simply is no bypass.

Hurtful Self-talk Be aware of the following hurtful self-talk that can block the grieving process— keeping you stuck. The following statements are examples of commonly held misconceptions that may run through our minds.

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My loved one is with God for a reason, so I shouldn’t feel bad. Grief is a mental illness. It is wrong to feel anger at the deceased and it shouldn’t be expressed. If I acknowledge the loss, I’m afraid I will die too. I should have died first. If I allow my grief to surface, I’ll go crazy. If I grieve, people will think I’m weak. If I appear sad too often, it will bring my family down. If I cry in church, my fellow congregants will think I’ve lost faith. If my children see me grieving, it will make them feel worse. The deceased wouldn’t want me to grieve. I should grin and bear it and put it behind me. If I stop grieving people will expect me to be happy again. When you find yourself running on the treadmill of hurtful self-talk, it is important to come up with a positive statement for balance. Write down your destructive or hurtful thought and then write down a more positive, realistic thought. For example, “The deceased wouldn’t want me to grieve,” is an unhelpful statement. You could write, “The deceased would understand and respect the full spectrum of my emotions.” Whenever a negative thought enters your mind, replace it with a positive, more realistic statement.

Impulsive Living While some grievers withdraw, others will compulsively pursue activities. The thought process often goes like this, “Life is short. I’d better do everything now that I always wanted to do . . . spend all the money, sell the house and move to Hawaii, write that book, divorce my wife, etc.” Others will take unnecessary risks. It’s imperative to carefully monitor your behavior during the first year. Do not make impulsive decisions. Do not sell your house, change locations, divorce a partner, etc. Wait until the fog has lifted and you can clearly see the options available to you.

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Instant Replays and Obsessive Thoughts At some point in our grief work, we are likely to find ourselves recounting the days with our loved one in our minds. We may also play out different scenarios of the death, trying to understand what has happened. For some, the review completely preoccupies the mind, and despite our wishes, we can think of nothing else. As is the case with post traumatic stress disorder, you may find yourself living and reliving the experiences you had with your loved one during the days, hours, or minutes just before the death occurred. “If only I had not taken that road . . . If only I had said ‘don’t go . . .’ If only I had been there I might have prevented the accident . . .” and on and on. With the first news of loss, our mind acts as a filter. It immediately sifts through the facts and details offering only the barest to keep us informed. Too much detail would be more than we could bear. So our mind filters and filters until our bodies and hearts can cope with a little more. At some point, when the body has recovered somewhat, the mind lets larger blocks of information in. At this point, by human instinct, we look for resolution. We struggle to make sense of what has happened and that is where the instant replay begins. We explore every option—even the outlandish. These explorations are what allow us to slowly internalize the fact that life, as we once knew it, has changed. This is a pivotal point in the grieving process. At this point, or close to it, we are finally acknowledging the reality of the death.

The “If Only” Mind Game “If only” is the game of guilt that plagues many survivors. In cases of unexpected death, the “if only” questions surface intensely. The situation is so “out of control” that our human nature fights and searches for a way to control the uncontrollable. As we yearn to make sense of the senseless, often the only route of control we find is to blame ourselves. “I should have known,” or “If only I had talked to him for two minutes longer . . . ” are sentiments that those who grieve may say to themselves. Realize this guilt is a way of trying to gain control over the uncontrollable, and then work to let it go. Each time it enters, remember that this is our longing for control, but don’t give in to the guilt. You cannot change what has happened and odds are you

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couldn’t have changed it beforehand. No one knows these things are going to happen—no one has that much control or foresight. Brook found that she ran on the “I should’ve known” treadmill. “I have talked with many of the people surviving the loss of a loved one and in every situation the one who is grieving can somehow tie blame to themselves. Even with my brother’s case, where it was such a freak accident, we could all find ways that we “should have known” or “should have been able to prevent it.” Yet as each of us told our stories of prevention, others could see there were simply too many holes. None of us could have stopped what occurred.” Pam’s client Barbara, whose only son, Brian, died in Iraq while with the U.S. Army, talked very candidly about her guilt: “Brian wanted desperately to serve his country especially after the 9/11 attacks. I knew violence of any kind wasn’t in his nature so I didn’t understand his sudden change in values. He insisted that not only would this be a way to serve his country, but would also be a way to get some valuable training that he could use in his civilian life. I don’t know too many mothers who would actively push their sons to go to war and I certainly wasn’t one of them. But I wish I had been more adamant about his not going. What can you do though? Take away their car keys and their iPod? He was a grown man, making a grown man’s decision. And he was my little boy. I should have figured out how to stop him.” Barbara has since realized that there really was no way to convince her son otherwise. She remains proud of him and has lessened her feelings of guilt. She recently told Pam, “We all make decisions that impact our lives. Despite my objections, Brian did what he felt in his heart was right and honorable and I will respect him as long as I live.” Don’t run yourself around this wheel of pain. If you find that you cannot stop trying to tie the blame to yourself, relay your story to a professional counselor,

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therapist, or pastor. While we grieve, we are not objective. These professionals can help us to see how unrealistic and unfounded these thoughts are.

Fear Throughout our grief work, fear can be debilitating. Some people experience fear in a small number of areas, while others are overwhelmed by it. It is perfectly natural to be fearful. We have experienced the most unexpected tragedy. Common fears include: fearing any situation that remotely resembles how the loved one died, fearing that others we love will be harmed, fearing we will be unable to go on, fearing we will die ourselves, and fearing the simplest activities will lead to tragedy. Fear serves several purposes. In the initial stages of grief, it gives us something to focus on besides the death that has taken place. It also offers potential control. If we fear that riding in a car could kill us and we choose not to ride in a car, we create the illusion of control. As explained earlier, with tragic death it’s common to seek any control we can find. Most of the time, fear will run its course naturally. If you find that you have any fear that is, or is becoming, debilitating, or that manifests itself as panic attacks, talk to a professional. As you think about this chapter, remember that grief will be a unique experience for each one of us. If you experience symptoms that aren’t listed here, or fewer symptoms, that is okay and normal. What is important to remember is that you need to work through these feelings. Sometimes you will require another person’s help. Monitor yourself on the path through grief. You know, in your heart of hearts, whether you are walking down the path or stuck at the beginning or middle. There are many things we must face in life alone, but grief need not be one of them.

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